LONG BRANCH, New Jersey – For the first few days of 2020, the Ocean Place Resort and Spa on the Jersey shore became a center of Torah learning for more than 350 teens coming together from across the United States, Canada and South America.
Aspire: The NCSY Yarchei Kallah program, a signature annual event for almost 30 years, has capitalized on the public school winter vacation period to inject an authentic week of Torah learning and unity into the lives of teens. NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union (OU).
The week started with NCSY bringing the group to the Siyum HaShas, where they joined nearly 100,000 who were celebrating the completion of the cycle of daily study of the Talmud. For many of the teens, the Siyum HaShas experience was their first exposure to the concept of intensive Torah study, and it was a fitting lead-in to the four day Yarchei Kallah that followed.
Yarchei Kallah is designed and managed by NCSY’s education team, led by Director of Education Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin. The teen participants, the majority of whom have limited previous exposure to Jewish texts or traditions, enjoyed one-on-one, group and lecture learning with dynamic speakers from around the world with whom they discussed the central theme: Find Your Story.
Over the course of winter break, NCSY ran two other similar events which took place in Chicago and Connecticut. Including the New Jersey Yarchei Kallah, NCSY cumulatively reached over 600 teens with school break programs.
“On the heels of the Siyum HaShas, the theme of Yarchei Kallah tied into how everyone has their own unique relationship with Torah learning, and how each teen has their own voice in not just the study but the production of Torah,” said NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland. “Every moment was carefully designed to allow the teens to find their story, true to the theme of the program.”
The program featured scholars from around the world, most notably, Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, Tikvah scholar-in-residence and director of the Straus Center at Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, author of The Thinking Jewish Teenager’s Guide to Life. In addition, famed musician Zusha performed for the group and former NBA first-round pick Michael Sweetney addressed the teens on the topic of gratitude.
“Yarchei Kallah is one of the most special and inspiring events we run,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “To see hundreds of public school teens come together to learn Torah during their winter vacation and to meet some of these teens who kept Shabbos for the first time, is very moving. We are committed to ensuring that Jewish education and experiences such as this are accessible to all Jews.”
“Each year, hundreds of public school teens look forward to the annual Yarchei Kallah where they are able to delve deeper into their religious heritage, learn from staff and advisors and join a broader community of teens who come from similar backgrounds with similar aspirations of learning Torah,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane. “The eagerness of the program participants to actively search for religious meaning is an inspiration to us all.”
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs. For more information, visit https://www.ou.org/.