More than 1,500 teens from every OU/NCSY summer program come together at Bar-Ilan University to celebrate the magic of unity and being in Israel. Each program wears different colored t-shirts with the words “Best. Summer. Ever.” emblazoned on the front and the name of their respective programs on the back. Yachad’s Yad B’Yad, Euro ICE, GIVE, BILT, JOLT, NSCY’s Summer Kollel, and TJJ are just a few of the programs. Some teens are religious and some are being introduced to religion for the first time, but they are all learning to have an appreciation for their homeland. Eight months go into the planning of what first appears to be quite the logistical nightmare, but the program was produced seamlessly and its success was evident in the faces of those in attendance. Even the adults stayed until the end of this seven-hour program and they did it happily. Speakers included Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and Miriam Peretz, author of “Miriam’s Song” and mother of two sons who gave their lives for the State of Israel.
For the second year, the first part of Yom NCSY is an Israel yeshiva fair. As the majority of the teens are approaching the end of their high school years, the planners thought this was a great way to introduce the campers to the different programs that Israel has to offer. Rabbi Gotch Yudin, the director of Ashreinu feels it is “a wonderful opportunity to meet future students and share our program with them.” Uri Pilichowski, the Director of Admissions at Migdal Hatorah and a rebbe, said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to bridge the two experiences, of being in Israel for the summer and being in yeshiva for the year. Our yeshiva is looking to answer questions about who we are and that fits in perfectly with the NCSY mentality.” Benji Kalmanowitz, a camper from Jolt Israel, said the fair was “a great way for me to see what is out there. It is really exciting to know that I have so many choices.”
After the fair, the teens participated in a festive barbecue, followed by a jam-packed program in the incredible setting of the Bar-Ilan University amphitheater. Keevy Fried, from Southern NCSY and the organization’s director of education and associate international director, said there were almost 150 kids from Florida on different programs. “Eighty-five are on the TJJ program and do not come from a religious background.” TJJ is the Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey for kids who are in public school and are experiencing Judaism, in some cases, for the first time. In a follow-up study done on the teens who attended this summer program, it was revealed that the impact it had on their lives was indelible; less intermarriage, more Jewish communal involvement.
Rabbi Micah Greenland is the International Director of NCSY and one of the coordinators of this event. “This is Yom NCSY’s eighth year, and our first year at Bar-Ilan. There is a tremendous magic in getting all of the programs together at the same time. The wide spectrum of Jewish backgrounds is what prompted the concept.”
David Cutler, Director of NCSY Summer, said, “Yom NCSY started as an idea to show off how many kids we have in Israel for the summer. It has turned into the highlight of our summer—just under 2,000 in attendance this year. It is the very essence of who we are in NCSY and what we are so uniquely qualified to do. Kids from all over the world and all walks of life celebrating together as one Jewish family.”
Minister Bennett expressed to the crowd, “Israel is the home of every Jew in the world. Whatever happens in your life, you always have a home here.” And in an emotional speech given by author Peretz, “All Jewish people need one thing, to open our hearts. I want to say to all of our enemies, we won. You can kill our body, but not our spirit… And to all of you children here tonight—be good people and do chesed and come to Israel in good times and sorrow.”
Shira Hagler, a camper on NCSY GIVE and a Bergenfield resident, was amazed by the event. “It is so great to see everyone and be here in Israel.”
Teaneck resident Lilly Polonetsky, another JOLT Israel camper was “so happy to be a part of such a great program. It is fun to see so many friends that are also in Israel. This is a great way to get everyone together.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.