NCSY’S YARCHEI KALLAH INSPIRES MORE THAN 200 PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS DURING THEIR WINTER BREAK
Public high school teens spent their school vacation studying Torah and connecting with their Jewish heritage at NCSY Yarchei Kallah.
While many teens engage in typical fare on their winter vacations, NCSY’s International Yarchei Kallah Convention at the Stamford Hilton in Connecticut united more than 200 public school teens from across North America to spend their school vacation studying Torah and connecting with their Jewish heritage.
NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, explained, “The primary focus of Yarchei Kallah is text-based Torah study. The teens are given the opportunity to engage in textual Torah study for the first time with guidance and direction from rabbis, educators and advisors.”
Each year a different theme and section from Chumash (The Five Books of Moses) are chosen in order in order to create a cohesive beit midrash (study hall) environment within the program. This year, the participants focused on the story of the Golden Calf and the subsequent efforts of Moses, on behalf of the Jewish people, to return to God. “The beauty of Yarchei Kallah” stated Rabbi Burg, “is watching the teens transform themselves into passionate and inspired Jews with a new appreciation of the relevance, wisdom, and timelessness of the Torah’s values and message.”
Jordyn Kaufman, a junior from Chappaqua, NY, summed up her experience: “Yarchei Kallah was the perfect mix of learning and fun. I made so many new friends and met so many amazing people. Since I am from public school, I don’t always have the opportunity to learn Torah, but at Yarchei Kallah I learned so many new and interesting things about Torah in the most fun ways possible.”
In addition to textual study, the program emphasizes leadership and creative skills. The students participated in a lively Dvar Torah competition in which they broke up into groups and prepared their own Torah ideas based upon a set group of sources. Volunteers from each group then delivered their Dvar Torah in front of the entire audience and a panel of judges. Jen Weiss of Edmonton, Canada, was awarded a trophy and a copy of the newly published, “Great Jewish Speeches,” for the creative content and dynamic delivery of her speech.
Students were treated on Thursday night to an energetic concert from The Maccabeats, sponsored by Yeshiva University. The Maccabeats, several of whom are active volunteer advisors in NCSY, animated the group with a spirited performance to adoring NCSY fans.
Yarchei Kallah participants engaged in a traditional Yeshiva-style mishmar learning session on Thursday night complete with chulent, kugel, and a packed beit midrash. After a week of in-depth study, the students solidified their newfound relationship with Torah study with a rousing presence past midnight in the beit midrash. The night finally ended with an emotional impromptu kumzitz as the hum of Torah evolved to heartfelt song in preparation for Shabbat.
Shabbat at Yarchei Kallah took place in the Teaneck, NJ Jewish community. Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, New Jersey NCSY Regional Director, and NCSY Director of Education explained the importance of presenting the Shabbat experience in Teaneck: “We want to introduce teens to a Shabbat-observant community. We wanted the Yarchei Kallah participants to meet community members outside of NCSY staff who embrace a Torah way of life. It demystifies what it means to be a Torah-observant Jew.”
After an uplifting and spiritual Friday night service and dinner filled with singing and dancing at Congregation Keter Torah, the teens dispersed to seven different nearby homes for a Shabbat oneg.
On Shabbat morning, Rabbi Burg joined OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil, and other NCSY personalities to deliver words of Torah at four different synagogues within the community. In the afternoon, NCSY organized a community-wide beit midrash session with Yarchei Kallah participants and community members. The session was followed by a speech from Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, on “Are There Limits to Forgiveness?”
As Shabbat came to a close, the participants spent the last few hours of Yarchei Kallah spiritually uplifted and wishing it didn’t have to end. They reflected on all they had accomplished during their winter break and the many things they would take back with them to their communities and homes.
The program during the week and Shabbat “was a resounding success,” Rabbi Burg said, “but the key element, of course, was the NCSY teens who participated.”
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