NCSY Brings Back Winter Kollel to South Florida

23 Jan 2012


Willie Roth, Director of Winter Kollel

For years, Kollel in Israel has been the flagship of NCSY Summer Programs, with boys in grades 9-12, almost exclusively with a yeshiva background, combining textual study and leisure activities under the summer sun.

What’s good in the summer can also be good in the winter — as long as there is sun. From Sunday, January 22-Sunday, January 29, NCSY will present “Winter Kollel,” to take place in South Florida, centered around Boca Raton and the Boca Raton Synagogue, a member shul of the Orthodox Union. The idea is to turn vacation time into something more productive — but this time, in the winter.

NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership is the international youth program of the Orthodox Union.

Winter Kollel actually marks the return of a once successful Miami-based program that operated independently for several years about a decade ago, run by young Donny Cohen of Boca Raton. This summer, while the Israel program was in progress, the idea to bring back the winter version under NCSY auspices surfaced seemingly simultaneously from two different sources — in Israel, from Willie Roth, the head advisor to Israel Kollel; and in Boca Raton, from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and Donny Cohen of the Boca Raton Synagogue, one of the OU’s most vibrant and active member congregations.

When an older Donny Cohen brought the idea to Rabbi Goldberg, the rabbi suggested having NCSY run it. Rabbi Steven Burg, who wears two hats as Managing Director of the OU and International Director of NCSY, agreed to reinstate the program under NCSY auspices.

Rabbi Burg explained, “Teens are always trying to figure out what to do in winter break and we felt they should have this option. There is no greater program than Kollel, no greater community than Boca Raton, so we thought we would combine the two. We expect that the students will leave for home inspired and come back to their day schools even more passionate about their Torah studies.”

Thinking of the reputation South Florida has for vacationing students, Rabbi Goldberg said, “NCSY is providing a kosher vacation to allow the boys to grow spiritually; it’s more than just walking on the boardwalk. All of the participants will be hosted in people’s homes; the synagogue will facilitate all the activities and programs. Our congregation is excited, and very eager to participate.”

In Israel, Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, looked on the developments with enthusiasm. An advisor to summer Kollel since 1993, he became Director in 2000, three years before he made aliyah. His full title is “Dean of Israel Summer Programs,” and although he will not be in Florida, he will be in touch with the on-site director, Willie Roth, on a regular basis.

Willie comes well-qualified for the position. He is a third year semicha (rabbinical) student at Yeshiva University, after having graduated from Yeshiva College in 2010 with a major in Jewish Studies; he is also pursuing an MA in medieval Jewish history at YU. He plans on pursuing a joint JD/Ph.D. in legal studies and medieval Jewish history. Regarding the Kollel program, he is a six-year veteran of the Israel version and this summer served as head madrich, or counselor.

This year he became Director of Shoresh (Root), a three-year-old activity of NCSY which provides programming for yeshiva high school boys in the New York/New Jersey area. Winter Kollel is being operated as a program of Shoresh NCSY, Willie says.

“I’m very confident in Willie and the Boca Raton community. They know what they’re doing and the program should run great,” Rabbi Benovitz said.

Winter Kollel will consist of 18 high school boys from the New York/New Jersey area, plus a team of advisors that is being sent to Florida. The students attend MTA in Manhattan, the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn and two yeshivot in New Jersey, Torah Academy of Bergen County and JEC in Elizabeth; students range from the freshman to senior classes. Their home communities are Monsey, New Rochelle, Flatbush and Staten Island in New York; Passaic and Teaneck in New Jersey.

The four madrichim, including Willie Roth, are students at Yeshiva University or its rabbinical seminary, RIETS.

The academic program will consist of a morning session of three hours and an evening session of two hours, with six boys assigned to each madrich in a chavurah (learning partner) arrangement. The theme of the morning session will be topics related to the concept of Sefer Torah and public Torah reading. The evening session will include more chavurah sessions plus guest speakers, including rabbis from the faculty of Weinbaum Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton.

Oh yes, fun in the sun. There will be plenty of time for that, including sports and daily trips; the trips will feature a BBQ and viewing of the NFL championship games on Sunday, arrival day; box seats to the Panthers-Flyers hockey game in Miami; trip to Miami and boat ride; a visit to Boomers Arcade; and a bowling tournament. The sports will include basketball leagues and a flag football tournament.

Of course, Shabbat will be special featuring Rabbi Goldberg and Donny Cohen of the Boca Raton Synagogue and others from the community.

The cost of the week, including airfare, is $499, which is subsidized by the OU.

“Instead of centering the Kollel around Miami, as in the past, we are centering it around Boca Raton. That gives it a community-based emphasis, enhances Shabbat, and gives a different flavor to the entire program,” Rabbi Benovitz explained.

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