They may have been lone soldiers, but they were anything but alone. Once an NCSYer, always an NCSYer.
Nearly 80 NCSY alumni who are currently serving in the IDF or in Shearut Le’umi (National Service) gathered last motzei Shabbat for an appreciation dinner at Papagaio thrown by the NCSY’s Alumni division.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. NCSY Alumni works with former NCSY participants to ensure they maintain their connection with the Jewish community.
“We inspire thousands of teenagers every year,” explained Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck, director of NCSY Alumni. “But when teenagers take that step to make their Jewish connection permanent by joining the IDF or serving in National Service, they inspire us. We’re so proud of them and this was our way of giving back.”
NCSY Alumni came from all across Israel—from Netanya, Tel Aviv, Afula and Otniel. Letters were sent to commanding officers by NCSY leadership requesting permission for some soldiers to leave their bases for the event.
“We are seeing the Jewish people understanding that we are one,” explained Rabbi Avi Berman, director of OU Israel. “It doesn’t matter where you were born, but if you are Jewish then you are connected to the entire 13 million Jewish people that stand together.”
Popular musician Shlomo Katz performed and author Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in the IDF, spoke during the evening. For many, the event was a chance to meet new friends, reconnect with old friends and strengthen their bonds to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
“It is not a simple thing to come and enlist when you don’t have to,” Peretz told the participants. “You leave everything behind you and you come to fight for the land of Israel and the people of Israel. It moves me as a bereaved mother to see youngsters such as yourself.”
Evan Gerwitz, of Chicago 23, knew he would move to Israel after his first visit with NCSY’s The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey in 2008. His service in the Israeli army was especially significant given that his family has served in the American army for the last four generations. He broke tradition to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
He was one of five teenagers from the TJJ trip to end up serving in Israel after high school. He served in the Golani Brigade, eventually rising to the rank of a platoon sergeant.
After learning in Israel for a year post high-school Tovah Berman, 19, of New Jersey, decided to make aliyah and is in National Service at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Involved in NCSY her whole life, Tovah traveled with New Jersey NCSY on disaster relief missions to assist clean up efforts after natural disasters. “NCSY taught me the importance of giving back,” she reflected.
“Seeing how many others have made the same sacrifice was a true inspiration and source of encouragement,” said Shimon Bermon, who trained religious soldiers for combat units and now serves as a combat soldier on reserve duty.
Growing up in a religious and Zionistic home, aliyah and serving in the IDF were always something Shimon Berman thought about. “NCSY and especially my summer in NCSY Kollel really strengthened my connection to Judaism and my desire to make aliyah,” he said. Shimon credits New Jersey NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Eitan Katz with helping him actualize his dreams.
Rabbi Katz himself was one of the NCSY leaders who flew in for the event.
“The recent NCSY event was a beautiful example of what NCSY is,” Rabbi Katz said. “We are proud of our alumni and we want them to know that NCSY is here for them every step of their journey in life.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.