The Orthodox Union’s Department of Alumni Connections, created almost two years ago to track NCSY graduates as they went on to secular colleges so as to keep them active in Jewish life, has been experiencing a tremendous growth spurt in recent months. To help manage tracking and contacting the numerous number of former NCSY on their way or already in college, Rabbi Dave Felsenthal, Director of Alumni Connections, has hired Scott Shulman, of Columbus, Ohio as the new Associate Director of Alumni Connections. He has also hired an Israel representative, Daphna Shaneson, who will help track and recruit NCSY teens in Israel for yeshiva or seminary study before continuing on to secular colleges.
Last year, “Rabbi Dave,” as he is known, was charged with the task of establishing a comprehensive effort to keep in touch with NCSY teens who were graduating from high school and going on to secular colleges across North America, and to connect those teens with Jewish organizations on those respective campuses. These programs included the OU’s own Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), present on 15 campuses throughout North America.
In only 12 months, Rabbi Dave has managed to reach thousands of teens. The techniques he employed included sending out a survey to teens about their post-high school plans; including on applications for NCSY Shabbatons a question about post-high school plans; recruiting a phone squad of interns to call NCSY teens in twelfth grade to ask about their plans for college; obtaining extensive data from each NCSY Regional director; and hiring an Israel representative to establish and maintain connections with teens heading to secular colleges after spending the post-high school transitional year in a yeshiva or seminary in Israel. All the results of these efforts were tabulated in a new extensive database.
Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, declared, “Rabbi Dave has been an integral part of the OU reaching out to NCSY teens who have gone on to secular colleges, and allowing them to connect to Jewish life on their respective campuses. With his department’s growth, I am confident that he and his team will continue reaching even more students and help them grow in their participation in the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Dave can already cite several success stories in connecting former NCSYers and new college students to the Jewish organizations on their campuses.
“I knew of a young woman and active NCSY member in high school who went on to attend the University of Virginia. Without any NCSY meetings and events, she was lacking a Jewish presence in her life and was even dating a non-Jew,” explains Rabbi Dave. “I spoke to the rabbi on campus and asked him to intervene, and he immediately began inviting her to his family’s home for Shabbat and maintain a connection with her. Thanks to this rabbi’s outreach, today, that young woman broke up with her non-Jewish boyfriend, began dating a Jewish young man, and became more involved in the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Dave also helped many JLIC rabbis find NCSY alumni on campus and reach out to them to become actively involved in Jewish life on campus. This included Rabbi Yisroel Porath, the JLIC rabbi at Rutgers University, who reached almost every NCSY alumnus on the Rutgers campus thanks to his efforts and Rabbi Dave’s assistance.
Rabbi Porath declared, “Some of Rutgers’ most active students in JLIC are NCSY alumni. We are privileged to see the effects of NCSY’s work and honored to help students build up the foundation of meaningful Jewish experiences that NCSY has provided them with. The lists of NCSY alumni on our campus that Rabbi Dave sends us each year is an invaluable tool for meeting students and ensuring that a Jewish organization on campus is looking out for them. The beginning of the year is always overwhelming, as we meet hundreds of new students and the task of who to reach out to first can be daunting. We put Rabbi Dave’s alumni at the top of our list; thanks to Rabbi Dave efforts these students are less likely to get lost in the crowd.”
Another important component of Rabbi Dave’s re-launched campaign to connect alumni was hiring Scott Shulman, a former NCSY member in Columbus, Ohio, in the new position of Associate Director of OU Connections. Rabbi Dave knew Scott personally as he had previously lived in Columbus before arriving in New York.
Rabbi Dave declared, “I’m very excited that not only have we vastly increased the number of new college students with whom to follow-up, but also increased the staff of OU Alumni Connections. I’ve known Scott since he was a student leader in the Columbus Jewish community. He was fearless then and he’s fearless now, unaware of the meaning of failure and able to reach out to any teen, anywhere. His passion, determination, and ability to see the big picture will lead to great things for our alumni in the years to come.”
Scott Shulman stated, “As a proud NCSY alum, I am excited to be the first person to fill the new Associate Director of Alumni Connections role. I am especially excited to be working under Rabbi Dave, who watched me grow up in NCSY in Columbus. To be able to work under his guidance now, as well as to continue in NCSY in a different capacity, is an incredible opportunity, one in which I am able to give back for all the incredible inspiration and experiences that NCSY has given me.”