Orthodox Union’s NCSY 4G Convention Draws 200 Orthodox High Schoolers

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12 Mar 2024

4G Program Empowers Young Women to Bring Meaning to Their Judaism on Their Own Terms

Standing in concentric circles, locked arm in arm, and swaying slowly to the rhythm of soulful songs, 205 teens recently bid Shabbos farewell in an inspiring experience called “Ebbing” at an NCSY convention in Somerset, New Jersey.

Teens enjoyed learning in chaburahs at the convention with 4G advisors

Yet unlike the majority of NCSY conventions where participants largely stem from secular backgrounds, this weekend catered to a broad spectrum of Modern Orthodox and Bais Yaacov high school girls who belong to 4G, or For Girls, an all-girls NCSY program.

A division of the Orthodox Union, NCSY inspires Jewish teens to connect with their Judaism, the Torah and Israel, through innovative, cutting-edge social and recreational programs. Geared for 9th through 12th graders, 4G empowers young women to develop an authentic and meaningful relationship with their Judaism through weekly social events centered on Torah, strengthening their relationship with Hashem, and building bonds with one another. Through their role modeling, 4G teens positively influence their peers.

“Every Jew deserves a chance to take a passive relationship with Judaism and God that was given to them through community and upbringing, and turn that into an active and personal relationship,” says 4G and Day School Engagement Managing Director for New York and New Jersey NCSY Shayna Gewirtz, who launched the program in 2020. “I believe we get this call to action from God himself, when he says ‘Lech Lecha’ to Avraham Avinu and calls on him to reflect on the life he knows, and build the life he believes in.”

Girls dancing at Nissim Black’s Motzei Shabbos Musical Experience at the convention

Rabinovitch adds, “4G emphasizes the idea of going beyond one’s daled amos to connect with Hashem and with others. The girls already have school friends. 4G is about the ability to look beyond that and connect with others from different schools, grades, and backgrounds.”

Chapters throughout North America have seen tremendous growth, like New York-New Jersey, which has welcomed 880 girls in the last six months. Other cities with strong girls programming include Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Toronto. 

“4G participants are incredible girls who are very connected to their Judaism,” says 4G New Jersey Director Suzanne Rabinovitch. “4G presents an opportunity and a space for teens to exercise their ‘bechira’ — to make Judaism theirs, because they choose to. The program offers girls a chance to go a step further in their Judaism, and demand more for themselves outside of school,” she adds. “There’s a real need for that. Girls are flocking to the program and are drawn by the authenticity they are experiencing.”

All 4G chapters hold monthly tisches and Shalosh Seudos gatherings in their communities.

Every Thursday, participants attend Beit Midrash for Girls (BMG) at a local shul, where they study a sefer of their choice with 4G advisors, and connect over delicious Shabbos food, like poppers and kugel.

“Even after a long day of school, these girls are taking their learning into their own hands by coming to BMG every Thursday to really engage in Torah discussions on their own accord,” says Rabinovitch.

In Teaneck, New Jersey, between 25 and 50 girls gather weekly at a local café for Tea Time, where they order a drink of their choice and connect with peers from other schools and 4G advisors. At the end of the evening, one participant shares a personal story and the Torah lessons that can be drawn from it. 

Teaneck’s Orly Fessel is a Junior at Naaleh High School for Girls. Fessel has participated in 4G since its inception and now sits on the 4G NJ Board. 

“I first started going to 4G events because my friends were going, but it quickly turned into so much more than that,” she says. “I love how 4G unites all of the girls’ high schools in the region, and around the world. Personally, 4G provides an amazing outlet to stay connected with my friends from camp and middle school that I otherwise would not see during the week. Whether we’re hanging out at Tea Time, learning at BMG, or singing at a tisch, it doesn’t matter where you come from. All that matters is that you’re a part of the 4G family.” 

In Bergenfield, New Jersey, 4G Lunch ‘n Learns and school clubs take place throughout the week, enabling students to connect with 4G educators and bond as a community. 4G also offers a JSU (Jewish Student Union) Cohort, which pairs day school girls and public-school girls who belong to an NCSY JSU culture club. The teens meet weekly on FaceTime to learn together b’chavrusa and Rabinovitch notes that the cohort presents a wonderful opportunity for 4G teens to contemplate and explain their commitment to Judaism.

“This is the first time the day school girls have ever had to articulate to anyone why they keep Shabbos, for example — what Shabbos means to them. The chavrusa presents them with a chance to really understand and articulate why they are who they are, and why they do what they do.”

This year’s 4G NCSY International Convention included all the exhilarating components that NCSY Shabbatons are renowned for, including singing, dancing and immersive Torah experiences such as advisor chaburahs, Tea Time Café, Mishmar, Davening Reimagined sessions on topics like “Davening Mindfulness”, “Meditation Through Tefilah” and “The Davening Why,” and an Open BMG sponsored by Touro University.

“The highlight of the convention for me was the first night of Open BMG,” says Fessel. “Since the first convention in 2022, a friend and I have been learning together. Each year we pick a new sefer at Open BMG to learn, and I love that moment – the rush of adrenaline when every girl comes to look at the display of sefarim gifted by Touro University for us to take home, is the best feeling. As people start to disperse with a new sefer in hand, the hotel fills with a Kol Torah like no other. Everything is on hold and everyone just learns. No matter what hallway you turn down, or room you enter, you’ll find people learning Torah, opening a new sefer for the first time. There’s nothing like it.”

Among the inspiring speakers who captivated participants throughout the weekend were BG Cubed (4G’s equivalent) Baltimore Director Jaclyn Sova, Yeshivat Lev HaTorah Director of Institutional Advancement and Rebbe Rabbi Daniel Hartstein, psychologist Dr. Nicole Spero, and renowned singer Nissim Black.

The One Shabbos Chessed Initiative was particularly meaningful for Fessel. After two Jewish public school students shared their struggles with antisemitism and determination to be proud, committed Jews, participants divided into stations where they created different elements of “Shabbos in a Box” for public school teens, including hadlakas neiros brachos, challah boards and covers, and havdalah candles.

“Getting to hear firsthand about what my peers are experiencing in their public schools was really incredible,” says Fessel. “As we made each piece, we were able to keep the stories we had just heard in mind, and consider the lives we would be impacting.”

Other convention highlights included a ride on a yacht in Perth Amboy and a Motzei Shabbos Musical Experience and private concert led by Black.

Reflecting on 4G’s growth and increasing popularity over the years, Gewirtz says, “I am in awe. I saw a need and had a vision, but the beautiful and widespread community that has grown out of that is beyond my wildest dreams. I truly thank God.” 

For Fessel, being involved in 4G has fostered a tremendous sense of Jewish pride.

“There’s nothing like being surrounded by tons of girls your age who all share your values and beliefs,” she says. “Seeing how much we can accomplish together is truly inspiring. As one nation, one community and one family, we can really do anything.”