NCSY’s Ben Zakkai Honor Society Presents Its 2021 Candidate Members

12 Aug 2021

The Ben Zakkai Honor Society raises critical funds to provide direct scholarships for NCSYers to continue their Jewish education after high school, or to participate in various NCSY programs,

For over 50 years Ben Zakkai membership has selected five new Alumni Inductees as well as up to twenty “candidate members” from among several thousand graduating NCSY high school seniors.

New adult inductees will be presented at an NCSY Gala Scholarship Reception in 2022. Here are brief biographies of the extraordinary teen leaders:

Eitan Aziz – Great Neck, NY

Eitan is an extremely hard-working NCSYer and has the potential to greatly impact the Jewish people. Eitan always strives to be the best person he can be. Seeking to serve Hashem is the main purpose of his life. A public school student who started a Gemara shiur for his classmates, Eitan proudly continues to spiritually impact his family and friends. Next year, he will be studying in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, where we are confident he will further develop into an extraordinary community leader and Torah scholar.

Raizel Borg – Minneapolis, MN

Raizel is a very special young lady. Her Jewish education started in a typical fashion with her going to day-school, but in 6th grade she and a few of her friends decided to leave and start homeschooling. When 9th grade began, she started attending public school. Raizel has always been an active NCSYer, both in middle school and high school. She attended every event and Shabbaton and is the Midwest NCSY Regional Vice President. NCSY has been enabled her to stay connected to Judaism. Raizel likes to have good discussions, share her views and tries to make Judaism relevant to her life. She spent her senior year learning every Sunday with her NCSY city director via zoom. Going to seminary is extremely important to Raizel and she will be attending Orot Seminary in Jerusalem Be”H on a Ben Zakkai Rabbi Pinchas & Rebbetzin Elaine Stolper Scholarship.

Zahava Chefitz – Potomac, MD

Zahava is the epitome of a Jewish leader. She is someone who gained a tremendous amount in her own spiritual growth from NCSY and she feels she must share this with as many other teens as possible. She has an amazing positive attitude (no small feat over the past year) and with her organizational skills and her drive to do good, she is an example to fellow NCSYers. As Regional President, Zahava displayed an innate ability to initiate and empower others. Due to her and her co-president’s constant efforts, this was one of the most active boards in many years. Zahava was at the forefront, helping plan events and programs that led to hundreds of teens learning over the past year – all due to her understanding that NCSY and learning Torah must go on no matter what. She will be studying at Tiferet. It is our utmost belief that she will make a great addition to the Ben Zakkai scholars.

Sara Elyassian – Great Neck, NY

“Tov L’hodot laShem.” Attending any Shabbaton or NCSY event over the last four years, one would have heard Sara’s voice over the crowd, with her deep sincerity and passion. These words have made a lasting impression on her as she sang them in the middle of Auschwitz on ASTJJAP and at the Kotel on ASTJJ, but it wasn’t until one of her advisors explained the words in depth and taught her about the power of Tehillim that the words took on a whole new meaning for Sara. Her understanding of the words is what motivated Sara to start saying Tehillim every day. To date, she has finished Sefer Tehillim many times over. That hasn’t been the only way that Sara has grown while being an active member of NCSY. For all who have the privilege of knowing her, Sara has astounded staff members with her spiritual growth and dedication to her Yiddishkeit and to NCSY.

Sara is always helping in any way possible, spreading everything she learns to all those she meets. Her passion and helpful nature have put her on Regional Board, president of her JSU club (which she helped create and run), and chapter board. Sara is currently Regional President. Sara’s growth in NCSY is just the beginning: She will be attending Stern Honors College in the fall assisted by an Aviva Ghatan Memorial Ben Zakkai Scholarship.

Nili Fischer – Denver, CO 

Nili has been a hard-working and conscientious NCSY national president during the unique challenges of being “Alone Together” in the age of COVID. Nili comes from an Orthodox family and is an accomplished lifetime yeshiva student, but she relates to and inspires NCSYers of all backgrounds. She led the “virtual teen board” through the unprecedented testing of the pandemic, never wavering in her belief that NCSY could overcome any obstacles. We wish her well as she continues her journey at Midreshet HaRova seminary and Brandeis University. 

Jake Freeman – Potomac, MD

When thinking of Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the namesake for this society, the first words that come to mind are leadership and humility. When thinking of leadership and humility, none other than Jake Freeman comes to mind. Jake has been a pillar of our NCSY community for many years. Jake has gone above and beyond, always offering a helping hand wherever needed, and often before being asked. In his time with NCSY, Jake has grown from a freshman who left Jewish day school with negative associations to someone who learns Talmud and Jewish philosophy weekly. A public school student, he is Be”H attending Aish Gesher assisted by a Ben Zakkai Moses I. Feuerstein Memorial Scholarship.

Jake is very humble in all that he does and when it came to deciding on a yeshiva, he approached us and said, “I feel like this is what’s best for me, where can I go to keep growing?” Jake is always thinking about his next step, how to get there and how to grow into the person he wants to be. Next year Jake plans to continue his growth as a person and a Jewish leader. He plans to attend university and help with Israel advocacy and Jewish life on campus which he sees as an area where he can make a difference. Jake is a perfect candidate for the Ben Zakkai Honor Society in so many ways.

Anna Freiman – Miami, FL

Anna, an honors student at Hillel High School, comes from a secular Latin-American family in Miami, from a community known to be incredibly insular – especially when it comes to their religious, social and material standards. Anna attended ASTJJ after 10th grade. An extremely intelligent and intellectual student, Anna became drawn to the deeper, more meaningful aspects of Judaism. Following ASTJJ, Anna became a regular at Yeshivat ASTJJ and Greater Miami NCSY programs. Pursuing a love of Torah learning, she took advantage of the numerous learning programs and chavrutas with staff and advisors. She learned every sefer available in the Yeshivat ASTJJ library. Anna has consistently been in the Top 5 of the new Southern Region NCSY Elite, an initiative which rewards NCSYers for participation in Torah learning.

Anna began incorporating Torah and mitzvot into her daily life, making the difficult decision to break the mold of her community. While some of her decisions left her on the outs with her friends and family, choosing to pass on social opportunities – this only made her stronger in her determination to stay true to Torah values. Anna also increased her involvement in NCSY, stepping up as a leader in the region. She is co-ASTJJ Ambassador on Regional Board.

Anna, who was a national merit finalist, was accepted to the prestigious Yale University but rejected the offer in order to attend Stern College after a year at Tomer Devorah seminary in Jerusalem, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Captain Hyman & Bessie Galbut Memorial Scholarship.

Noah Graber – Albany, New York

Noah is someone who would prefer not to stand up and be the leader, but he continues to do so in Albany NCSY because he takes his responsibilities to his community and family seriously. There is a much larger group of NCSYers in his chapter older than him, and a large group younger, and Noah in between was always focused on bridging the gap. He learned and gained so much from his friends older than him and saw that he was that role model for the upcoming teens in his chapter. (He’s also an incredible big brother to his little brother and sister!)

Noah is curious, always looking to learn and question, and gain real answers about Torah and Judaism. As our VPE, he focused his creativity on providing that opportunity for more teens in our region. He knew the value of being fully engaged in learning, and having discussions that you can connect with, and he knew that was what brought him back time and time again, even with all of his other commitments. He has made time every year to learn with many different advisors, as well as encourage his friends in chaburas by showing them how he values learning and knowledge.

Noah has also been a true host – when friends from Rochester visit or advisors come for Shabbat, Noah goes out of his way to make sure they are comfortable. He is the guy you can count on to go up and introduce himself to anyone new and make them feel right at home.

He has helped our region continue to feel like a family, and it has been a pleasure to be there as he developed the confidence and skills to be a leader. Noah plans to attend John Hopkins University in the fall.

Alexandra Hadge – Stamford, CT

Alexandra’s growth and journey over the past four years has not only inspired her friends, but taken them along with her. She, along with her twin sister Danielle, decided in 8th grade that they wanted more from their Judaism, in a year when many of their friends were choosing the opposite. She was determined to continue attending the local Jewish community high school and connected with our Stamford Directors. She told them she wanted to learn how she could also be religious. She grew up learning to be proud of her Judaism, but now wanted to learn how to live it. Whenever a new chabura was set up to learn a new topic, Alexandra pulled in not only her sister, but several friends to learn with an advisor. Wanting an even stronger foundation and support system, Alexandra attended Michlelet Mechina with her twin sister – not an easy feat to accept both – but that speaks to both of their qualities and real commitment to personal growth and gaining the knowledge to lead Jewish lives. Alexandra will Be”H attend Machon Maayan next year assisted by Ben Zakkai’s Julia and Joseph Macy Memorial Scholarship, where we know she will gain the tools to continue to inspire those around her.

Danielle Hadge – Stamford, CT

Danielle has dedicated herself to personal growth through all kinds of hardships and, along with her twin sister, has come a long way through their high school and NCSY career to living an observant, Jewish life. Danielle’s grandparents are traditional and long-time members of the Stamford Jewish community, so Danielle had an appreciation, but not much knowledge about what it looked like to live your Judaism – day in and day out. And she wanted that. She connected to Yaakov and Yolly Faratci in Stamford, and soon was looking to learn more about how she could take on more mitzvot. She told them: I want to learn how to live a religious life. Danielle has learned with advisors every year in NCSY, tackling topics of daily observance like kashrut, Shabbat, and tzniut. She attended Michlelet Mechina, where she flourished with the opportunity to learn as much as she wanted and be surrounded by others as passionate and excited about their Jewish growth as she was. This was a difficult year for those deciding to go to Israel, especially since many of their friends wouldn’t be going. Nevertheless, Danielle wanted so much to spend a year back in Israel in a program where she could continue to connect with role models and opportunities to learn. We are so proud of her and all she has accomplished and contributed to our NCSY community. Danielle will be attending Bar-Ilan University in the fall.

Bram Hoffman – Shaker Heights, OH

Bram is a young man of outstanding motivation and intelligence – and a super mensch. Bram is a once-in-a-generation NCSYer who attended public school and comes from a family that is not yet fully observant. He is headed to KBY after finishing high school. Bram served as Regional and National Vice President. He will be learning in Israel next year assisted by a Ben Zakkai Mikey Butler Memorial Scholarship.

Alice Khalitov – Minneapolis, MN

Alice is a born leader. She is helpful and if you need something done, you can count on Alice to pull through in a mature and efficient way. She started homeschooling in 7th grade and did so throughout high school. She is an independent person and hard worker. She started PSEO, taking college classes while still finishing her high school degree on her own. Alice never complains and always has a positive word to say about everyone and every experience. She has been extremely involved in NCSY from middle school through high school, never missing an event or Shabbaton, both local and out of town. She has been active on our chapter board and whenever anything needs to get done, Alice jumps to offer her help – and you know you can count on her to follow through. She will be Be”H studying at Tiferet seminary, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.

Ariel Lawton – Beachwood, OH

Ariel is highly motivated and not afraid to incorporate what she learns into her life. We have had the pleasure of observing her grow from a tentative ASTJJer and Yarchei Kallah participant into an observant young woman heading to Midreshet Tehillah, with the assistance of a Ben Zakkai Ezra Ben Tzion Lightman Memorial Scholarship. She will continue her education in the Honors Program at the Lander College for Women where she has received the OU/Touro College Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander Memorial Leadership Scholarship (after she turned down a lucrative scholarship offer from a prestigious catholic college). Ariel’s journey from the brink of assimilation to serious Torah study and mitzvah observance has inspired her peers, her chapter and Regional advisors, and her own family. She is an inspiration to both her peers as well as the adults in her life.

Nathan Lerman – Silver Spring, Maryland

There is no teen who embodies everything that NCSY has to offer in our chapter more than our president Nathan “Noach” Lerman. Reb Noach, as he has become known as in our circles, has truly grown into a Jewish leader in his time in Greater Washington. He went from a shy freshman to the obvious choice for president as a senior. “How do I get my friends involved?” “How do we help the community more?” “What can we do for the Jewish world right now?” “What’s the halacha behind ‘x’?” These are just a few samples of Noach’s intuitive thinking that always puts others before himself. Throughout his time in Greater Washington, he was involved in multiple NCSY projects, including the NCSY Perkei Avot and Quarantine Haggadah this past year. He also helped lead his school’s JUMP team to win the competition in 2019 by creating a texting service that taught kids a “helpful halacha” daily. Noach has big plans for his future career, but sees very clearly that what a Jew does first is learn in yeshiva. He is very excited to grow at Yeshivat HaKotel this coming year with the single purpose of cementing his Jewish life and furthering his influence as a Jewish leader. The world at large needs more pure-hearted, kind kids who are constantly looking to grow like Noach Lerman, chapter president, Regional Officer and a Ben Cardin Scholar who has been awarded a Ben Zakkai Moses I. Feuerstein Memorial Scholarship.

Chana Lyubeznik – Minneapolis, MN

Chana is a very deep thinker. She loves to read, learn and ask questions. She started out in Bais Yaakov for high school but after 9th grade felt it was not for her, so she switched to public school. Chana has been heavily involved in NCSY from middle school through high school, never missing an event or Shabbaton, both locally and away. She learns with multiple advisors every week on a variety of topics. Chana has started to slowly take on more mitzvot as she feels she is ready, and it’s done voluntarily. She has made tremendous strides in observing the mitzvot of Shabbat and tzniut and continues to do so as she prepares to attend the rigorous Midreshet Tehillah seminary in Jerusalem. Her learning in Israel will be assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship. She has also been awarded an OU-Touro College Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander Memorial Leadership Scholarship to continue at Lander College for Women.

Jacob Plumb – Houston, TX

Jacob is a senior at Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, Texas. Throughout high school, Jacob has taken every opportunity possible to involve himself in personal religious growth in order to develop a stalwart foundation that includes both learning and exemplary middot. He began his career in NCSY in 9th grade during which he has gone to both Regional Conventions as well as Yarchei Kallah. He has also attended multiple NCSY Summers with both NCSY Camp Sports and NCSY Kollel. Jacob is an avid learner by phone, having learned almost every single day for the past three years with one of his NCSY advisors over the course of which he has learned the third chelek of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a perek of Gemara Sanhedrin, various aspects of machshava and will soon be completing the first chelek of Mishna Berurah. Jacob also contributed to the NCSY National Board Seder Companion in 2020. Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop Jacob’s unquenchable love for learning, attending NCSY Camp Sports’ virtual mishmars and virtual Southwest NCSY events. Jacob has taken the leadership he learned in NCSY to various other aspects of his life, becoming the president of the Making a Difference club (Beren Academy’s chessed organization) at his high school as well as working hard to receive his Eagle Scout Award in the Boy Scouts of America. Jacob will be continuing to invest in his learning at the prestigious Yeshivat Har Etzion and afterwards hopes to attend the Honors program at Yeshiva University.

Talia Rockmacher – Palm Beach, Florida

When Talia was 11 years old, she came home from school with a piercing headache that lasted for days. When the headache wouldn’t subside, numerous doctor and hospital visits lead to the diagnosis of an astrocytoma brain tumor in her cerebellum. B”H, a successful surgery removed 80 percent of the tumor.  

While other children her age were running around, playing and swimming, Talia had to learn how to walk again and used a walker for months as she went through intensive physical therapy. B”H, she has been cancer and tumor-free for six years now.

This life-changing experience allowed Talia to mature faster than most kids her age because it gave her a new perspective. Talia believes that it taught her to not take life for granted and to always make the most out of every situation.

Talia grew up in a traditional Jewish home and her involvement in NCSY started almost four years ago. She has since regularly attended countless JSU meetings, weekly and shabbat gatherings, Regional trips, AIPAC, Yarchei Kallah, as well as ASTJJ, ReSurf. Talia had planned to go on Michlelet Mechina last summer, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19.

Throughout the past four years Talia’s growth has been a top priority for her. She tries to dress tzanua and keep Shabbat to the best of her ability and is a regular at Torah learning programs. She always helps with leadership, fundraising and organizational roles. Today she is a JSU, chapter board and Regional Board member. She plans to continue her learning and growing at Machon Maayan next year, assisted by a Captain Hyman & Bessie Galbut Memorial Scholarship.

Tamar Vann – Boca Raton, FL

Tamar is the youngest of four and comes from a family of NCSY stars each in their own right. Tamar’s involvement in NCSY did not stem just from following in her siblings’ footsteps, but rather from choosing her own path of growth. Although Tamar’s family was shomer Shabbat, Tamar went to public school since elementary school. During high school her parents went through a difficult divorce that uprooted their family life. During this time, Tamar started attending NCSY Shabbatons and chapter programming regularly. After 10th grade, she went on TJJ. Following that summer, Tamar became a regular at Yeshivat TJJ. Tamar, who is an extremely intelligent young lady, soaked up the Torah learning and internalized the Torah she learned. This could be seen throughout her journey of Torah growth as she grew into a true tzanua both inside and out. She had planned to attend Yeshivat TJJ Israel last summer before COVID hit. During the months of lockdown it was clear that Tamar stood out among fellow NCSYers. She grabbed opportunities to attend as many zoom learning programs as possible because they were a source of her much needed chizzuk during those difficult months. Tamar’s love for learning Torah shines through whenever she is learning. She is always the first to contribute an additional Torah thought or ask questions with tremendous perspective. Tamar has consistently been in the Top 5 of the new Southern region NCSY Elite, a new initiative which rewards NCSYers for Torah learning.

Tamar also began to step up as a leader in the region, which was so crucial during those months of disconnect while trying to keep other teens encouraged and motivated. Tamar was appointed to Regional Board as co-TJJ Ambassador. Tamar has stood out as a leader who can always be counted on to contribute with unique and introspective ideas. Tamar even started a new JSU club during COVID. Tamar plans to attend Midreshet Tehilla next year assisted by a Captain Hyman & Bessie Galbut Memorial Scholarship.

Bryan Weisz – Westport, CT

One of the things that makes Bryan so unique in his approach to Jewish growth is that he doesn’t set limits upon himself when it comes to Yiddishkeit. Coming from a non-religious family, Bryan became the essential minyan man in his small community of Westport, CT, desperate for help. Bryan repeatedly stepped up, creating Simchatons and Shavuatons and leading the shul on Shabbat in multiple capacities. Even with a very limited background, Bryan aspired to learn at a high level. One summer, he attended a camp which focused on learning and refused to give up on having a Gemara seder, having his own Gemara curriculum created for him at school. He then began a Gemara chabura on an NCSY Regional and started a Gemara club with fellow NCSYers, teaching them how to learn and appreciate learning, even with their limited background. Bryan has excelled in the department of middot as well, with his sensitivity to others being apparent once you meet him. As an NCSYer, Bryan transitioned from a boy who did not know how to learn or daven into a young man who led his Torah community and became a religious role model for his peers. We are so proud of his decision to study next year at Orayta.

Jeffrey Yampol – Saint Louis, MO

Much like his sisters before him, Jeffrey Yampol is a shining example of what it means to be a great NCSYer. His consistent involvement, participation and passion all the way from Jr NCSY throughout his high school career is noteworthy. His personal story of triumph over adversity makes it even more so. Beset by difficulties that no teen should ever have to deal with, including the passing of his mother this year, Jeffrey has remained a true Ben Torah and has always gone the extra mile to further himself as a Jew. His desire to attend Yeshiva College and grow in Torah is a model for what anyone could hope to see in a teen.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.