Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s limits on travel and large scale in-person gatherings, NCSY, the Orthodox Union’s flagship youth movement, has transitioned its signature Torah learning mega-event, Aspire: Yarchei Kallah, into local in-person study for smaller groups, as well as larger national virtual sessions this year. More than 2,000 teens and educators joined the programming, dubbed “Aspire: Yarchei Kallah On the Go.”
In late January, teens signed up to either choose their own chavrusa or have NCSY pair them with a partner for the learning event. They also selected the books they wanted to study. The organization then sent them the texts ahead of the Feb. 15 opening session held virtually with hundreds of the participants. The text options included Artscroll’s Chumash Sefer Shemot, Artscroll’s Gemarah Mesechet Brachot, NCSY’s Koren Siddur, Praying with Fire and Mesillat Yesharim.
Teens joined from 26 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. Following the launch event, they partook in different challenges with prizes to keep them engaged in their learning with their partner, including posting a 30-second summary of something they learned to social media, an essay contest about what the program meant to them, and more.
In prior years, NCSY’s annual event was held in-person as a week-long Torah-learning retreat for hundreds of teens during the December public school break. “While there is no true substitute for the immersive experience of the classic Yarchei Kallah retreats, it was inspiring to see how NCSY’s leadership team was able to pivot a program so focused on a physical atmosphere of unity and in-person learning into one that engaged with more teens than usual and for an extended period of time,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “We recognize the commitment of everyone who made this possible, the teens who dedicated time to learn and the staff that worked diligently and endlessly to make the experience a success.”
“Our goal this year with Aspire: Yarchei Kallah was to take advantage of our needing to use a virtual platform by opening the program up to a wider audience than ever before,” said NCSY Education Director Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin. “Where prior to the pandemic we were limited by capacity restraints, travel costs and a teen’s ability to devote a full week to the program, this year we were able to open the event up to teens everywhere and impact even those who might have limited available time to devote each day to learning.”
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.