Shira, as President of the Chicago-based Midwest Region, had written to Rabbi Burg earlier this year about her gratitude for NCSY’s programming and opportunities to constantly learn and grow spiritually; she had been thinking about applying for the position as International President simultaneously, and soon decided to go for it. “But I hadn’t heard anything about the final decision, other than the fact there were other NCSY advisors interested in the same position. It was a shock when he announced me,” she said.
NCSY is the international youth program of the Orthodox Union, offering innovative programming which helps Jewish teens see the beauty of their heritage and a Torah-lifestyle. NCSY has truly become a global operation, with 14 regions across the United States and Canada; programs in Israel and the Ukraine; and now a presence in Chile and Argentina.
Shira, who was born and raised in St. Louis, part of the Midwest Region, first heard about NCSY when she was in fifth grade at Epstein Hebrew Academy. “I started going to NCSY events because my friends were going to them,” she said. “It really started as a social thing. I met people from all over; some of my closest friends now are from Kansas, Chicago and New York.”
Still, it wasn’t until freshman year of high school at Block Yeshiva that Shira felt her attendance was more for the spiritual aspects than the social ones. “Every President’s Day weekend,” she said, “the Midwest Region holds a Yarchei Kallah – the one I went to my freshman year was truly inspiring. People started explaining Judaism to me in a way that nobody had before.”
“My family is Modern Orthodox, but like any teenager, I went through stages in which spirituality is not on the forefront of one’s mind,” continued Shira. “Once I got to high school, though, I recognized that religion shouldn’t be taken for granted. I feel that NCSY helps to not only draw those with limited Jewish background closer to Judaism, but also helps those who did have exposure to Judaism to not take their heritage for granted.”
Since freshman year, Shira has not missed a Regional Shabbaton or convention. Her sophomore and junior years of high school, she served on the Chapter Board for the St. Louis chapter of NCSY, before being elected to the position of Regional President at the NCSY Shabbaton that took place this past May.
Rabbi Micha Greenland, Regional Director of Midwest Mesorah Region of NCSY, declared, “I’ve known Shira about seven years. Ever since Shira first got involved in NCSY, she’s always been impressive in her care and concern for others and in her leadership abilities. She is a strong role model who is admired both by her peers and by staff members.”
After proving they are committed to NCSY and serving as exemplary role models in that capacity, Regional presidents are eligible to become the International President. The position, which lasts a year, entails heading the international board that is made up of all the Regional presidents, brainstorming new initiatives and helping to guide the board and put them into action. The International President often travels to different NCSY Regions to join them in their Shabbatons.
Rabbi Burg declared, “We are very excited about Shira Kandel, our new International President. She has proven to be nothing short of an NCSY all-star in her years as part of the Greater Midwest Region. She is a leader who has already begun to explore new and exciting ways to make NCSY even better.”
Shira takes over the position as International President from Sarah Jampolsky, of Overland Park, KS. Sarah graduated last year from Block Yeshiva High School, where Shira is currently a senior. “After talking with Sarah,” said Shira, “serving NCSY as the International President felt like something I really wanted to do.”
Currently, Shira and the board of Regional presidents are working on developing fundraisers that involve every region and chapter in North America. They are in talks on how to implement a program that would focus on helping teens in public school keep Shabbat, and they are also trying to get a leadership training seminar for all the Regional board members together, which will probably take place in the New York area. Additionally, they are in the midst of planning the National Yarchei Kallah that takes place every year around winter break in December.
Shira lives in St. Louis with her parents, and has two older brothers. Paul, the eldest, is married and living in Israel, while Ben is currently a student at Yeshiva University.
To see Shira’s list of accomplishments is to wonder when she finds time to sleep – in addition to her various roles in NCSY over the years, she has also served as the Vice President of her school’s Student Council in her junior year; has been a member of the school’s tennis team for three years (and still finds time to play after school); is a journalist for the student newspaper; and is also currently writing the script for the annual school production. Outside of school, she participates in a program called the Student-to-Student Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of St. Louis. JCRC is a Federation-sponsored umbrella organization that coordinates discussions between different religious and ethnic groups on topics of concern, such as racism and anti-Semitism. “The Jewish students who participate travel to public schools and non-Jewish day schools,” explains Shira, “and give presentations on what Judaism is all about. It’s an attempt to dispel any negative misconceptions about Jews in the greater community.”
Shira plans to attend Israel after high school for a year of study, and enter either Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University or the University of Maryland upon her return to the States. She is interested in a career in speech therapy or business.
Wherever she goes, though, it is certain that she will maintain her involvement in NCSY. “I plan to definitely remain involved with NCSY activities, being involved with NCSY alumni and continuing to attend NCSY events and programs,” says Shira.
“NCSY gives teens a place where they are encouraged to grow spiritually and work on their religious growth, which they are often not encouraged to do in their regular, day-to-day lives,” declared Shira. “It provides a whole network of people supporting and encouraging them to do just that.”