Heartfelt reminiscences and humorous anecdotes abounded as NCSY celebrated the Twentieth Anniversary of the Ben Zakkai Honor Society’s NCSY National Scholarship Reception. Held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan on February 8, two hundred guests joined in the meaningful evening as four former NCSY participants were welcomed into the prestigious honor society and four awards were presented for devotion to NCSY and dedication to inspiring the Jewish future.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
After a video presentation featuring the Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen I. Fagin, Dinner Chairs Dr. David and Vivian Luchins led the proceedings with a sweeping tour through the history of NCSY and the personal histories of the multiple honorees and inductees. Each year, a select group of nominees is voted on by the membership of the society, which was established in 1965 and is named after the Tanna (Mishnaic sage) who is credited with leading the Jews after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Proceeds from the dinner, which was first held in 1995, provide scholarships for Jewish teenagers to attend NCSY summer programs and other major events.
“The reception provides necessary scholarships to some of NCSY’s highest impact programs and makes a substantial difference in the lives of those teens,” explained NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland, who delivered the reception’s greeting.
The evening was dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Louis and Rebbetzin Helen Ginsburg z”l, one of the founding families of NCSY. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, the first director of NCSY, flew in from Chicago to welcome the Ginsburgs’ grandchildren to the event.
This year’s four inductees to the Ben Zakkai Honor Society come from different parts of North America and serve NCSY in various capacities. Rabbi Ben Gonsher and Karen Steinberg both work for Southern NCSY, as chief relationship officer and CEO, respectively. Rabbi Adam Simon is director of San Diego NCSY and Rabbi Arieh Friedner is the director of Cleveland NCSY.
Rabbi Adam Simon was introduced by Ben Zakkai Chair Isabelle Novak, of Los Angeles, who began with a personal story about Adam’s younger days and the time he had the longest hair in their synagogue as he grew it out for Locks of Love, a charity that provides wigs for cancer patients.
Afterwards the program segued into the evening’s honorees. Nechama Kamelhar, of Brooklyn NCSY, hailed as the “neshama (soul) of Brooklyn,” by Vivian Luchins, received the Rebbetzin Ella & Rav Aharon Soloveichik Award, named after the Orthodox luminaries and early supporters of NCSY. Dalia and Rabbi Dr. Matis Shulman of Teaneck, NJ received the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award, named after a beloved NCSY advisor who died tragically young.
David and Fran Woolf, of Toronto, received the Enid & Harold H. Boxer Memorial Award, named after the founders of NCSY. The Woolfs are longtime supporters of NCSY Canada, as Rabbi Glenn Black, CEO of NCSY Canada, explained during his introduction.
“Fran and David have watched a small movement they partnered in founding in Canada grow from humble beginnings into a nationwide organization running hundreds of programs reaching thousands of Jewish teens every year,” Rabbi Black said. “Their handprints can be found on every single idea, innovation and child who participates to this very day. In each generation Hakadosh Baruch Hu chooses certain unique individuals on whose shoulders rest the future of His children. Fran and David are those people.”
The evening concluded with a rousing speech by Rabbi Chaim Wielgus, of Brooklyn, who received the Rebbetzin Elaine & Rabbi Pinchas Stolper Service Award, named after NCSY’s first director. Rabbi Wielgus spoke about his own history with NCSY — and how he has been involved with NCSY for the past 33 years. “The most important thing is to support the Ben Zakkai Dinner to send NCSYers on its summer and other important programs,” he declared.
In his comments, NCSY International Director Rabbi Greenland praised the work of the Society.
“The Ben Zakkai Honor Society is a remarkable group of NCSY alumni,” said Rabbi Greenland. “It’s essentially our Hall of Fame and it allows our most distinguished graduates to work together on projects that benefit the Jewish community.”