Before serving as Torah educators, role models and community organizers on college campuses across the United States as staff of the OU’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program, three couples got their start at NCSY.
Either as teen participants, advisers, or staff, these couples met through the international youth arm of the Orthodox Union and chose to remain within the OU family as they raise their own families.
“We’ve come full circle,” said Sharona Kaplan, co-director of JLIC of the Hillel at UCLA for the past 10 years with her husband, Rabbi Aryeh.
Sharona reflects that she and her husband have benefited from “the classic Modern Orthodox upbringing.” Growing up a few miles apart in Teaneck, they went to hashkafically complementing local day schools and met as active members of New Jersey NCSY. “We can’t remember the exact moment we met—it wasn’t a specific event or anything—we were just part of a very solid chevre (circle of friends), an incredibly close NCSY chapter— that was the anchor of our social life,” recalled Sharona.
In their senior year of high school, Sharona served as Teaneck NCSY chapter president and Aryeh served on the New Jersey NCSY Regional Board. Aryeh went on NCSY Kollel while Sharona recalls “at least three summers working at the NCSY Summer Experience for Girls.”
The two remained involved with NCSY after they married in 2000. Aryeh continued as an NCSY advisor in Allentown, PA while studying for semicha at RIETS and Sharona studied for her Master’s in Social Work from Yeshiva University. Upon graduation, the pair wanted to move out of town, to strengthen a community.
“NCSY definitely shaped our career path,” said Sharona. “We felt that we gained so much from NCSY and the mentors it offered us that we really wanted to do something as a couple to give back to the community. A lot of our friends from that NCSY chapter are now teachers and Rabbis across the country, giving to Jewish communities, and we credit a lot of personal and professional development to NCSY because it was a fun and grounded experience.”
Recreating the positive educational and social vibe of their NCSY experiences, albeit in a different, more mature level, has been a goal for the Kaplans since arriving at UCLA in 2004. The UCLA campus itself, although accessible to Orthodox communal amenities, is not located within the mainstream concentration—creating their own community. According to the Kaplans, “We celebrate Shabbat with hundreds of students. Our havdalah is modeled after the NCSY havdalah. Our students have major life decisions—they are choosing careers, some even choosing spouses. And we are here serving as someone present with no agenda, who cares about them, their Judaism, their well-being—and at this critical junction, it’s an honor to have a hand in students’ lives.”
After public school friends got him involved in NCSY at the end of high school, Rabbi Reuven Boshnack began as a chapter advisor for then-Long Island NCSY and Shabbaton Coordinator for Long Island Junior NCSY during his undergraduate years at Yeshiva University.
Sometimes he would speak at programs held at the Teen Torah Center in Sayville, NY (out in Suffolk County on Long Island) where he would occasionally meet Shira Dubin, a Woodmere native one year his junior who studied at Stern College For Women and volunteered with Long Island NCSY.
Chol hamoed of his senior year at YU, while driving home to Oceanside, NY from the Hebrew Academy of Suffolk County on a Sunday morning, Reuven totaled his car and called Shira for a ride home. They drove to programs together on Sunday for the rest of the year, and during that time they began dating.
“Sometimes we would double date with another NCSY couple—the guy lived across the hall from me at YU and his date dormed at Stern with Shira,” Rabbi Boshnack shared. “We would carpool to dates, or ended up sitting near each other at a restaurant.”
When the couple married in October 1998, four tables of NCSYers shared in the simcha. The Boshnacks lived in Israel and Boca Raton as newlyweds when friend Rabbi Avi Heller, then JLIC Torah Educator at Boston University, encouraged the couple to apply for a position opening at Brooklyn College. They have served the campus ever since.
According to Rabbi Boshnack, in 1993, an advisor tried to get him to attend an NCSY Yarchei Kallah, designed for public school students to learn Torah and Jewish values during their winter break. For reasons he can’t remember, he didn’t end up attending. “One of the thrills of my life was two years ago when I was asked to teach at Yarchei Kallah—it only took 19 years, but I made it,” he joked.
Now in their second year at the University of Maryland, Rabbi Ari Neuman and his wife, Shira, met as advisors for Upstate New York NCSY, known as the Har Sinai Region.
Three years her senior, Rabbi Neuman had been volunteering for Upstate NCSY through his undergraduate experience. Shira came on board as a freshman and the two realized they had many similarities but their paths never intertwined. Ari is from Highland Park and Shira from Bergenfield, but both had similar upbringings, both attended what Ari dubbed brother/sister yeshivot for high school and in Israel, and both majored in psychology.
The region, which includes Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, the Catskills, Mt.Kisco, Rochester and Syracuse, is comprised largely of public school students. Both Ari and Shira wanted to share their passion for Judaism and teaching, feeling NCSY would be a great opportunity.
According to Rabbi Neuman, there is a strong emphasis for Upstate NCSY staff to spend energies building one-on-one relationships with the teens and integrating among the teen chevre; little—if any—time is spent simply schmoozing with other advisers over the course of a weekend.
“It’s ironic, but noticing from a distance how Shira interacted with the NCSYers is what initially caused me to be interested in her in the first place,” Ari confessed, after staffing a few Shabbatons with Shira. Ari inquired with a mutual friend—who was also Shira’s cousin—if Shira had begun dating yet, and the two were informally set them up. “The upstate model worked to our advantage because we both felt it wasn’t appropriate for the NCSYers to find out about our relationship before we got engaged,” he shared. “The model allowed us to focus on the teens, as we both took our roles as advisers seriously.”
Without any suspicion, the NCSYers were shocked (and excited) when Ari and Shira announced their engagement in the spring of 2011.
During their first two years of marriage they worked as city directors of Highland Park NCSY. With a dream to become the rabbi of his own congregation, Ari was encouraged to apply for a JLIC position by his friend Rabbi Noah Cheses, then JLIC Torah Educator at Yale.
Ari was drawn to the communal and halachic experience to be gained within a campus community. “Knowing I’d be teaching at Torah at a high level, and having a personal touch with students really attracted us,” he reflected.
The Neumans joke,“We went from advisors in Upstate New York, to city directors in New Jersey, to JLIC educators in Maryland. Maybe we’ll find a congregation in Florida so we can continue tracing our career southbound.” But for now Maryland it is.
Over the years, several NCSY couples stayed within the OU family, joining the ranks of NCSY staff. These couples join hundreds of others who met organically through NCSY.
The OU Department of Alumni Connections recently launched the website “Met Through NCSY” (http://alumni.ncsy.org/met-through-ncsy/) to engage alumni and encourages couples who met through an NCSY program to share their wedding pictures. It has already taken off with over 130 couples on the webpage.