RABBI NAHUM ZAK, FORMERLY DIRECTOR OF NEW YORK NCSY, NOW THE SOUTHERN REGIONAL DIRECTOR, BASED IN SOUTH FLORIDA;
TO EMPHASIZE LEADERSHIP TRAINING AND OUTREACH
Though he is no longer a resident of “the city that never sleeps,” Rabbi Nahum Zak, who was formerly the director of New York NCSY, seems to have adapted that motto for his own self.
Rabbi Zak arrived in Florida only weeks ago as the director of the new Southern Region of NCSY, which is now merged with the South Florida Region and is based in North Miami Beach with satellite offices in Boca Raton and Atlanta. He succeeds Rabbi Tully Bryks, former director of the South Florida Region. Rabbi Bryks, who has moved to Israel with his family, is now heading Bar-Ilan University’s NCSY American program.
Since then, Rabbi Zak, who lives in Boca Raton, has run two leadership training seminars for NCSY student leaders in Florida and Chattanooga; visited Jacksonville, Charleston, SC, and Savannah to strengthen local NCSY chapters by setting up Friday Night Lights (the popular NCSY program which introduces teens to the beauty of Shabbat); and spent a weekend in Palm Beach to give a drasha (in-depth lecture on Torah) at Palm Beach Synagogue and to run leadership programming for teens, as well as to serve as the keynote speaker for the first night of selichot (prayers of repentance said leading up to Rosh Hashanah) at Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox high school in Miami Beach.
It’s a busy schedule, but one that Rabbi Zak is fully committed to – he gave up a professional career on Wall Street to turn his attention to kiruv (bringing people closer to Judaism) and NCSY in particular, the very organization that helped introduce him to a life of observant Judaism when he was a teenager on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Appointed director of NCSY’s New York Region in 2005, Rabbi Zak spent the next four years expanding nine weekly programs to over thirty throughout the Region and developing the idea of leadership training seminars for student leaders.
“High-school students were being appointed as leaders within NCSY, but these teens needed some kind of training to help them become leaders,” Rabbi Zak commented. “Therefore, New York NCSY began offering not only extensive programming replete with leadership-building activities and training sessions, but real-life ways to help these teens practically apply what they learned. We send them to communities in the middle of nowhere, where they are the only link to Judaism and Torah, and have them set up Shabbatons, programming, and recruit community members to become actively involved in Jewish life.”
Rabbi Zak attributes much of the success of NCSY over the past few years to those teens. “NCSY Regions grow on the strength of these student leaders,” he declared. “That’s not just a sound bite but the honest truth.”
His own efforts can’t hurt too much either.
Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, stated, “Rabbi Zak is an inspirational, charismatic, and energetic leader. In his work for New York NCSY, he vastly increased membership. His warmth and approachability will no doubt make him an asset in South Florida and the rest of the South, as well.”
Initial plans for the coming year will be focused on expanding the leadership training track Rabbi Zak developed in New York to help additional students throughout the Southern Region become leaders. Additionally, the first shabbaton of the year is set to take place the weekend of November 13-15 in Fort Myers.
Along with his wife Allison and their four children, Rabbi Zak has introduced hundreds of teens to the beauty of Judaism, not only through official NCSY programming but by inviting multiple guests to his house for Shabbat each week. That is a tradition that is sure to continue in the Zak home in Boca Raton.
“The move from New York to Boca Raton has been a little difficult, as we are far from our family and friends back in New York now,” said Rabbi Zak. “But it is a move that is well-worth any of the challenges we face.” It is probably one he will appreciate when he hears about New York’s first snowstorm this winter.
Further explaining his excitement for his new position, Rabbi Zak continued, “I am a strong and passionate believer in the need for kiruv — outreach, and here in the South it’s almost like the Wild West of opportunities. In many areas, there is no one doing what NCSY does to help bring people closer to Judaism, so this is really the most exciting job in the world if you are serious about introducing people to the beauty of a Torah way of life.”