New NCSY College Credit Program for Teens at C.W. Post

13 Dec 2010


NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership, which for decades has concentrated on informal means of providing Jewish education to teenagers, favoring sites such as Starbucks and tour buses rather than classrooms, has established a new formal educational venture, placing it firmly on a college campus and offering college credit to students who have completed the course work.

The program is called Gesher (Bridge): The Judaic Scholars Institute (JSI); the location is the Brookville, Long Island campus of C.W. Post, a division of Long Island University; and the students are academically talented upperclassmen, both boys and girls, from yeshivas and public high schools in Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. The success of the program is paving the way for it to go national in the future.

NCSY is the international youth program of the Orthodox Union. “NCSY is always trying to expand our education efforts, our scope, our outreach. We’ve done a lot of work in Israel – this is one more step towards educating Jewish teens in a Jewish way,” declared Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY.

“We wanted to offer something educationally to match the high level of inspiration NCSY has offered for decades,” added Rabbi David Bashevkin, Associate Director of Education for NCSY, who administers the program and teaches the courses.

The courses are “Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism” and “Jewish Culture in America.” Classes meet for two hours on alternate Sunday mornings from October-May. Three college credits will be awarded by C.W. Post for each course. The program also includes optional participation in the two-week “March of the Living” in the Spring, with its visits to Eastern European concentration camps and then on to Israel.

The program was the brainchild of Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, the Director of Long Island-based New York NCSY; Rabbi Lightstone saw the program as a means of creating committed, activist young Jews. “Many programs exist today that will create a legion of Jewish young adults who will become active writers to the editor,” he said, “but there are not nearly enough programs which develop the proverbial editor. This program does exactly that.”

Rabbi Bashevkin was recruited to design the curriculum and teach the classes. As Rabbi Lightstone explained, “David Bashevkin was the logical choice to serve as the first educator in JSI. His academic acumen and integrity are stellar, along with being a charismatic personality and gifted orator, enabling these ‘extra’ courses to be equally fulfilling, educational and enjoyable.”

Rabbi Bashevkin studied at Yeshivat Shaalavim and Ner Israel Rabbinical College and is receiving rabbinical ordination from the RIETS seminary at Yeshiva University. He holds an MA in Jewish philosophy from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and has been involved in educational programming for a variety of Jewish organizations, including one in Sydney, Australia. He holds the rank of Adjunct Professor at C.W. Post.

Learning Without the Latté:

This formal classroom-based program, with its reading list emphasizing scholarly articles from journals and magazines, is a world of difference from having a latté at Starbucks and discussing the week’s Torah portion between sips. The Mysticism course includes such topics as “What is Jewish Mysticism?” “Is God Everywhere?” and “History and Survey of Great Hassidic Thinkers.” Jewish Culture includes “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Immigrant Experience,” “Were We Our Brother’s Keepers? Jewish Americans during the Holocaust,” and “Can’t We All Just Get Along: The History and Development of Jewish Denominations in America.”

“Students bring both their minds and their hearts to class to participate,” Rabbi Bashevkin said.

According to a position paper prepared by Rabbi Bashevkin, the program is founded on NCSY’s mission statement of “Inspiring the Jewish Future.” As he wrote, “Lasting inspiration cannot exist without substantive education. NCSY has realized that long-lasting Jewish identity must be built upon the strong framework of Jewish knowledge; for this reason, the organization has begun looking for new vistas in which it can provide higher level Jewish education to its constituents.”

According to Rabbi Burg, “It has become clear that more and more high school students have begun signing up for college classes. For a variety of reasons – whether they are financial, academic or old-fashioned scholarly interest — many high school students have chosen to enroll in college courses to get a jump start on higher education. This trend caught NCSY’s attention.” That led to Rabbi Lightstone’s proposal and the hiring of Rabbi Bashevkin.

“The students are a combination of public school and day school students, sharing a great forum for high school teens who are interested about learning about Jewish literature and philosophy,” declared Rabbi Bashevkin. “Everyone brings their own understanding to the classroom. It’s a great venue to have high school students from different backgrounds to come together and interact.”

In his research, Rabbi Bashevkin learned that C.W. Post had been offering college classes with credit to high school students for some time and in a variety of subject areas. He reached out to Dr. Nicholas J. Ramer, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Chemistry. Following a series of meetings, “Eventually we had this program up and running to bring top level Jewish studies to our constituents,” Rabbi Bashevkin said.

“Thanks to generous gifts and donations along with NCSY support, the program has been heavily subsidized,” added Rabbi Bashevkin. Because NCSY does not want an exclusive classroom program, students who do not participate in the European trip will visit museums and attend lectures to supplement their work at Post.

Both Rabbi Lightstone and Rabbi Bashevkin are looking ahead to expand the program, beginning in the next school year if possible. “The potential growth of this program is exponential as it has within it the hallmark of Jewish programming — academic excellence and experiential inspiration,” Rabbi Lightstone declared. “By offering college courses and seminar experiences at ‘wholesale’ costs, JSI will now be able to service a very significant underserved niche in the greater Jewish community.”

Rabbi Bashevkin agrees. “C.W. Post is the starting point but we are actively speaking to other colleges across the country,” he said. “We hope other colleges come on board to offer substantive college classes in Jewish education to high school students.”

OU | World’s Largest Jewish Resource