RASHEI YESHIVA OF AISH HATORAH AND OHR SOMAYACH ADDRESS NCSY PROS
At the end of August, over 150 NCSY professional staff and volunteers gathered at the Holiday Inn in Edison, NJ for three days of inspiration and substantive training at the annual staff conference of NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, opened the three-day gathering of professional outreach workers with a passionate review of NCSY’s 52 years of success and his vision for the next half century.
Following Rabbi Burg’s presentation, conference attendants were privileged to participate in a real-time, interactive webcast with kiruv (outreach) icons Rabbi Noach Weinberg and Rabbi Mendel Weinbach, founders and Rashei Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach, respectively, who joined the conference from Jerusalem.
There were many other renowned speakers in attendance. Celebrated author and psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski spoke on self-esteem issues in kiruv. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, and Richard Joel, President of Yeshiva University, each presented personal and professional reflections. Noted educator Rabbi Menachem Nissel spoke on a number of topics, including “The Kiruv Imperative.” Richard Horowitz, North American President of Aish HaTorah, presented his famous study on demographic challenges facing the Jewish community. Other topics of professional interest were also presented.
Of special interest was a panel moderated by OU President Stephen Savitsky on “Orthodoxy: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” The panel consisted of OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb; Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel; and Rabbi Dale Polakoff, President of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Conference attendee Dana Grossman of NCSY Canada praised the caliber of the presenters, as well as the conference agenda in general. “The speakers are really first-rate,” she said, “and the program is highly interactive.” This sentiment was echoed by many of her peers who were in attendance.
One of the many high points of the conference was an innovative “best practices fair,” where NCSY staff from across the US, Canada and Chile were able to exchange programming ideas. Jon Ackerman of NCSY New York felt that the ability to network was one of the most important aspects of the conference. Bram Bregman of NCSY Ottawa concurred that “There are a lot of creative juices flowing here.”
A special presentation was also made to Rabbi Lenny Bessler for his many years of service and dedication to the OU and NCSY.
Associate National Director of NCSY David Frankel, who organized the conference, noted that “NCSY’s ‘army’ of professional staff and advisors are uniquely poised to be an unparalleled force for kiruv rechokim and chizuk kerovim, reaching out to unaffiliated teens and engaging affiliated but disenchanted teens. No other organization has the experience and know-how of NCSY.”
In addition to learning from the incredible array of speakers, conference participants used the time together to refresh their skills and to “recharge their batteries” for the impending school year.
Reflecting on the crises of assimilation and intermarriage, Todd Cohn of NCSY in Kansas City, Kansas, said, “Even if I walk away with nothing else, it was worth coming for these four words from Rabbi Nissel: ‘The house is burning.’ We have to throw everything we’ve got at that fire.”
Videos of most portions of the conference are scheduled to be posted on the NCSY web site. To see them once they become available, or for more information on NCSY, visit www.ncsy.org.