There was no hidden meaning behind the appointment of Amanda Esraelian as the 2010-2011 NCSY International Teen President; NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
The ambitious and approachable 17-year-old Roslyn Public High School senior, with an electric personality and zest for life, could write a megillah of her own rise in the ranks of leadership. Amanda also currently serves as Co-Regional President of New York NCSY.
As Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, New York NCSY Regional Director noted, “It takes someone special to become inspired in this world. It takes someone spectacular to take that inspiration and turn it into practice every day. Amanda is spectacular.”
According to Rabbi Steven Burg, NCSY International Director, “Amanda is a role model and a tremendous leader who is acutely aware of leadership ability. Her dedication to Judaism and heart-felt sincerity for reaching-out to other Jewish teens have played powerful roles in what she has been able to give to this organization.”
According to Amanda, “I didn’t know that I was being elected — It was a big shock! I had to remind myself that God put me in this position for a reason — I can throw it all away, or do something with it. The choice is mine.”
And It Was in Those Days:
Amanda and her older brother, Omid Aaron, grew up in a very traditional Jewish Persian family in the town of Roslyn, on Long Island, New York.
“My father taught me how to read and write Hebrew. My family would be together for Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch; we would go to shul and do Havdalah (the ceremony ending the Sabbath) – yet, I still felt that something was missing,” she explained.
As a high school freshman, Amanda was invited to attend her first New York NCSY Shabbaton with two seniors from her school, and agreed to come along without knowing anyone else. Instead of letting her inhibitions get the best of her, she decided that “I was going to make the biggest fool of myself because in my head I wasn’t coming back again before the weekend began.”
But by the end of the Shabbaton, Amanda’s feelings had changed. “I never thought that I would ever experience Shabbat in such an incredible way like that – having real conversations with others, with myself, and with God.”
Amanda gradually began immersing herself in the New York NCSY community, attending “Latte & Learning sessions,” where teens meet at local Starbucks and similar locales for discussions on Jewish thought while enjoying the company of friends and a free coffee. She registered for other Shabbatons, and participated in GIVE (Girls Israel Volunteer Experience): the NCSY Summer Program for high school girls, giving them the opportunity to engage in volunteer activities within various areas of Israeli life, e.g. Israeli food banks, hospitals, and camps for child victims of terror. GIVE students also greet new olim (immigrants) arriving on Nefesh B’Nefesh flights and collect clothing for the poor.
Amanda chose to take what she was gaining from NCSY and apply it to her own life. One of the most visible implementations of her choice to embrace Judaism was her decision to begin dressing tzniut, according to Jewish laws of modesty.
As a popular and well-liked public school student, this decision did not go unnoticed. “For me to go against the crowd was weird for some of my friends, and hard for them to accept at the time,” she stated. “Dressing modestly was a process, I took things one on step at a time. I think it’s beautiful, and I did it for me.”
Amanda shared that one afternoon, she lamented that she could not attend a friend’s party that night due to Shabbat observance. Coming to terms that she no longer was living a life similar to her public school peers, she was stopped in the hall by an acquaintance.
He said to her, “You must have so much respect for yourself. So many others, myself included, have so much respect for you — beyond words.”
Walking home from school, Amanda was able to reflect upon his words. “I knew that I was different – I’m unique, and that’s something I cherish. Going through NCSY, I learned for myself not to underestimate how much I could accomplish, and what I really could do. Challenges can be so rewarding,” she shared. “Also, don’t be so quick to underestimate the people around you because they do love you.”
Everything Has its Season:
As NCSY Teen President, Amanda has taken advantage of the opportunity to reach out to other teens across America – sharing her passion for Judaism, increasing inter-regional programs, attending as many Shabbatonim across America as her schedule (and parents) allow in order to inspire and empower other teens to be proud, growing Jews.
At the National Delegate Shabbaton of the 2011 OU National Convention, Amanda spoke in front of OU “movers and shakers in the Jewish world” to spread the message of NCSY and its impact on Jewish teenagers.
Honored by New York NCSY earlier this month for her commitment to tzniut with the “NCSY Young Woman Leadership Award,” Amanda visited local Long Island yeshiva day schools and Jewish culture clubs in public high schools to share her story.
Amanda has also been instrumental in organizing “Learn for Gilad Day,” on Sunday, April 10. NCSYers from each region will be paired up with another teen from a different region and learn together over the phone or via webcast in order to raise awareness and build merit for the release of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier missing since 2006.
“It’s amazing to form connections with other Jewish teens. I feel like I’m part of something bigger — that’s really what I wanted for this year.”
So Should it Be For Us!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.