In Joint Initiative, NCSY Alumni Attend Yeshiva University’s Mechinah (Bridge) and BJS Programs

18 Mar 2008


The Orthodox Union’s youth program, NCSY, announced today that seven of its alumni from across the country are currently enrolled at Yeshiva University’s Mechinah (Bridge) and Basic Jewish Studies Programs as beneficiaries of the YU-NCSY Scholarship Nomination Program. Yeshiva University is awarding scholarships to NCSY/Jewish Student Union (JSU) participants from limited Jewish education backgrounds, who have demonstrated a desire to continue their Jewish education after high school.

Students who have received the scholarships for the 2007-2008 academic year include: Deborah Wiseman, of Cleveland, OH; Shera Sonenberg, of Albany, NY; Elizabeth Penn, of Bronx, NY; Or Pikary, of Cupertino, CA; Hanna Sorkin of Kansas City, KS; Clara Hersh of Milwaukee, WI; and, Kaley Wajcman, of Overland Park, Kansas. Biographies follow at the end of the release.

NCSY provides educational, social and recreational events for both observant and non-observant teenagers. At the forefront in the battle against assimilation, NCSY is the premier organization dedicated to connect, inspire and empower Jewish teens and encourage passionate Judaism through Torah and Tradition.

JSU was founded in 2002 by Rabbi Steven Burg, NCSY International Director, with four clubs in Los Angeles public high schools. Today JSU has grown into an independent national organization that works in partnership with NCSY in the facilitation of Jewish student clubs in more than 230 high schools across North America. By fostering a social atmosphere, presenting engaging and entertaining educational programs, and lowering the barriers to participation, JSU and NCSY have succeeded in reaching unaffiliated and under-affiliated Jewish teens.

According to Rabbi Ari Solomont, the Gerald & Mary Swartz International Director of Recruitment and Outreach, Mechinah and Basic Jewish Studies Program at Yeshiva University, “Through the good work of NCSY professionals who facilitate JSU clubs, public school students become inspired and more interested in Judaism. If these students want to continue their Jewish learning and attend a top university, we want to accommodate them at YU.”

“These scholarships recognize the outstanding accomplishments of NCSY and JSU participants and the choices they have made in their lives. “
Rabbi Burg agreed. “These scholarships for YU’s Mechinah program provide an unparalleled opportunity for teens with a limited background in Judaism to receive a quality Jewish and secular education,” he declared.

“YU has been a great partner in making this a reality. We are extremely excited to be working with Yeshiva University President Richard Joel. He has made a priority of making YU education and our Torah community accessible to young Jews who are searching to grow as Jews,” Rabbi Burg added.
YU-NCSY Scholarship recipients are nominated by their NCSY/JSU advisors or regional directors.

In addition, the two most outstanding nominees from each NCSY region will receive prestigious awards and recognition at their respective NCSY regional and national conventions.

Yeshiva University’s Mechinah Program for young men, which is now in its fourth year, and the Basic Jewish Studies (BJS) Program at Stern College for Women, currently in its third year, accommodate students with limited Jewish educational background. This affords the opportunity to learn Torah at an introductory level, while at the same time earning an undergraduate degree from Yeshiva University. There are over 100 students enrolled in these programs.

Biographies of the scholarship winners are as follows:

• Deborah Wiseman, of Cleveland, OH, longed to attend a Jewish school. Upon completing her junior year at a suburban North Olmstead High School, she jumped at the chance to enter Yeshiva University in the early admissions program. With the help of Chana Appel, the former Cleveland chapter director of NCSY, Deborah was nominated by Central East NCSY and received a scholarship to YU. “If I couldn’t afford it, I couldn’t come. I am very grateful. It’s a great place to be,” said Deborah. “There’s so much to get involved in, I haven’t found a day yet when I haven’t participated in an activity.”

• Shera Sonenberg, of Albany, NY. During her four years of high school, including two on her NCSY regional board, Shera’s NCSY advisors would mention the strength of Yeshiva University’s dual curriculum. Shera, a Studio Arts major and a member of the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Guilderland High School, wanted to enhance her Jewish education in a way that would stay with her forever, without compromising her secular studies.
“The Basic Jewish Studies Program is amazing! It’s created as a community within itself and the teachers are very friendly and warm. They don’t teach down to you or oversimplify, but help you learn the basics and prepare you to move on to higher level courses.”

Shera will continue her involvement in NCSY this year as a collegiate in the Upstate New York Region.

• Elizabeth Penn, of Bronx, NY who since starting at The Bronx High School of Science in ninth grade, deeply missed the Judaic Studies she had been used to at her yeshiva day school. She chose to attend Yeshiva University, over several prestigious secular colleges, so that she would be able to sustain the strong Jewish background that is so important to her.

Elizabeth attended NCSY events after the chapter opened in her synagogue in the Bronx during her junior year of high school and the scholarship she received allowed her the opportunity to study at Yeshiva University. There, Elizabeth says, she “hopes to increase my communal involvement and establish myself on the road to becoming a leader within the Jewish community.”

• Or Pikary, of Cupertino, CA. Yeshiva University was the single out-of-state college that Or applied to. Originally, the tuition costs turned him away, but learning about the scholarship opportunities and visiting the campus convinced him to enroll. “I visited other schools and considered factors like kosher food and Shabbat, and Yeshiva University just made the most sense.” Only in the familiar Jewish atmosphere of YU could Or see himself feeling at home while away from his family in Cupertino.

Or particularly appreciates the warmth of the Mechinah program, where he attends special classes for Sephardic students, Shabbatonim in various communities, and is often invited to his rabbis’ homes for meals.

• Hanna Sorkin of Kansas City, KS. During high school Hanna became increasingly active in Midwest NCSY. After graduating from the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, she attended Machon Mayan, a new NCSY seminary in Israel. Hanna made the decision to go to Yeshiva University while studying at Machon Mayan. “I was really new to observance and I didn’t want to be in an environment in which I would be drawn to do things that I had outgrown,” she said. “I know it would be so hard to continue learning anywhere else.” At YU, she is learning Navi (Prophets) seriously for the first time and enjoying it immensely. “Without the scholarship, I definitely would not have been able to go to Stern, and I am really thankful for the opportunity.”

• For Clara Hersh of Milwaukee, WI, attending Yeshiva University differs greatly from going to public high school in Milwaukee where she was valedictorian. However, as a member of the BJS program, Clara is able to spend time with people experiencing similar adjustments. “It’s good to be with like-minded people, who are really interested in learning and in continuing my growth.”
Clara is also taking advantage of New York City, going out to the kosher restaurants and attending student life activities. She is planning to maintain her involvement in NCSY as an advisor, where she feels, as someone who went to public school, that she can reach a certain demographic population and connect with them in a way that others could not.

• Kaley Wajcman, of Overland Park, Kansas, while studying in Israel for a year, came to the realization that she needed to be in a Jewish institution rather than simply a school with many Jews. “I didn’t want to find myself compromising values that I had spent a whole year in Israel developing and growing,” said Kaley. She is thrilled with the “incredible accommodations, professors, and classes,” and is also a member of the first-ever soccer team at Stern College.
Kaley has been involved in NCSY since she was in fifth grade. She is very excited to return to Midwest NCSY as an advisor. “I’ve always looked up to my advisors and have wanted to be in that leadership role for a long time.

For more information about NCSY and YU-NCSY Scholarship Nomination Program, contact Eliana Rudolph at or 212-613-8258.