Defining and Defending the NCSY Experience

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02 Feb 2011
Four Friends, Fifty Years of Service

In May of 1961, Founding NCSY Conventions were held in the resort communities of Monticello, New York and Miami Beach, Florida. Four teenagers came to those events and never really left — neither they, nor NCSY, would ever be the same again.

These four teenagers — who met, married, and stayed involved with NCSY for fifty consecutive years – were honored by the Ben Zakkai Honor Society, NCSY’s “Alumni Hall of Fame,” this past week at the January 30th reception dinner in New York.

Dr. David and Vivian Luchins, became the first recipients of the Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander Memorial Award; and Rabbi Zev and Rivkah Leff received the Ezra Ben-Zion Lightman Memorial Award.

The two girls were from similar homes, Talmud Torah products whose parents were friends, despite being competitors in the Catskills carpet trade. Their families, like those of the vast majority of early NCSYers, were proud members of their local Orthodox Synagogues but not necessarily Sabbath observers. Both of them would transform their lives and have great impact on their families and so many others.

Vivian Osdoby had been badgering her Rabbi to “do more for the girls” [Editor’s Note: some things simply do not change] after he had organized a Basketball League for post Talmud Torah boys. The Rabbi decided to start an NCSY chapter instead. Vivian came to the Founding Regional event and was elected Regional Secretary. The next month at the first of her (record) 41 National Conventions she was elected a National Vice President. She went on to serve as Regional President in 10th grade (bringing her Region coveted national Region of the Year honors), two more terms as a National Officer (a record four years on the National Board).

Roberta Ann Minkoff of Ellenville was not like the other girls in her public school (B’H). Her quest for spiritual growth and mature reliability had already made her the babysitter of choice for young Rabbinic families in her community. Not only did she quickly become an NCSY Chapter and Regional Officer, as Roberta became Rivkah, she went on to become first National Vice President of NCSY. During that year she became the first NCSY public school girl to leave home to attend a Bais Yaakov High School from which she snuck out almost every day to work in the NCSY National Office.

Zev Leff and David Luchins were already close friends in Hebrew Academy of Miami, when a construction crisis in Atlanta forced the Southern Region of NCSY to move their Regional Convention to Miami Beach. Rabbi Alexander Gross zt”l, the principal pf the Hebrew Academy decided that the students of his school should participate in the Convention. This was the FIRST time that a Yeshiva sent its students to NCSY. Many of those students, at least four of whom are here tonight, went on to assume leadership roles in the American Jewish Community.

Yeshiva students, some from Orthodox homes, others who has already become observant in the school mixed in a nonjudgmental fashion with public school NCSYers, mostly from nominally Orthodox homes. It simply had never happened before. NCSY was transformed – and so were those Yeshiva students.

Zev and David both became active NCSY Officers on the Chapter, Regional and National level. Zev went on to be an acclaimed Rav in North Miami Beach before making aliyah in 1984 to Moshav Matityahu where he is Rav of the Moshav and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Matityahu. David went on to become founding Dean of Touro College’s Lander College for Women/The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School. Zev and David and Vivian all serve on the Board of the Orthodox Union. Zev and David are two of the most popular speakers at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem. Zev is on a “Gadol Card”. Vivian chairs the NCSY Youth Summer Programs Committee. David dabbles in Politics and public speaking. Rivkah is a revered Rebbitzen. But, after 50 eventful years they remain NCSYers!

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