Special Highlight: Sherene Nili Rafiee
Growing up in Portland, Oregon in 1997 there were no options in the community for Jewish teens to experience programs like NCSY, until Sherene Nilli Rafiee and Matthew Rosenberg restarted the Portland chapter. They were eighth graders at the time and had just returned from a Shabbaton in Seattle which was the closest NCSY chapter. Returning to Portland inspired, they organized a bowling event which officially relaunched the chapter after 15 years of inactivity.
As regulars of the new Portland Chapter, teens would fly to Los Angeles to attend regional conventions where they met other Jewish students, learning with advisors to learn with, and creating lifelong friends. “NCSY never forced you to learn or attend programs, instead offered options with gentleness and music, all to create an educational experience.” says Sherene.
The summer after 9th grade Sherene attended NCSY’s SEG (Summer Experience for Girls) in the Catskills, New York. With a new spark ignited, she decided to keep Shabbaat and would only eat Kosher. Sherene continued to connect with Jewish teens, keeping in touch with her new NCSY friends. While Sherene was raised in a traditional Jewish home, this was a starting point not only for her but a new path that her family and siblings would embrace.
After returning from the summer program her family moved to Calabasas, California. There, Sherene along with Ben Cooper launched the Calabasas chapter. The chapter took off right away, with teens attending weekly Latte N’ Learning programs as well as other social and educational events. Esther Benzaquen was her advisor at that time who has become a forever friend.
In 1999, proud to have never missed a regional convention, a shabbaton, or even LTS (Leadership Teen Shabbaton), Sherene attended the ISE (Israel Summer Experience) summer program before 11th grade. During that summer, she grew in Tznius (modesty) and expanded her Jewish education. The friends she made on ISE are now some of her closest friends, some were even bridesmaids at her wedding. Sherene was then driven to attend a Jewish day school and was accepted to YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles. The value of attending a Jewish school, for daily Torah learning, and for being with her NCSY friends was worth the long daily commute from Calabasas to the city. One of her most trusted NCSY advisors, Molly Adler, became one of her dear friends that Sherene now considers family. “NCSY changed the course of my life,” says Sherene. After High school, she attended seminary at Michlelet Esther in Israel. Though it was in the wake of the 911 attacks, Sherene’s parents felt she would be safe In Israel and decided that her being in the Holy Land was meant to be. Following Sherene’s example, her three siblings attended Jewish Day school and gap year programs in Israel. Following her Gap Year in Israel, Sherene attended Stern College in New York, before receiving her MBA from UC Davis.
In 2005, Sherene moved to Sacramento, starting a new NCSY Chapter. As Director, she brought NCSY to a new generation of teens, recruiting them for regional conventions and weekly learning programs. Understanding what and how her students needed to be inspired, Sherene gave back to NCSY by paying forward the lessons she learned. She connects the Sacramento teens with other chapters, helping them create bonds with other Jewish teens, just as she had.
Sherene and her husband Ramtin now live in Los Angeles. The path for Sherene, along with her family, continues to be an inspired one. Through Rabbi FE Goldberg, Regional Director emeritus, they became foundational partners of NCSY, supporting programs and attending fundraisers and regional conventions with their children.
We are excited to announce that Sherene has recently joined the West Coast NCSY Board of Directors. “NCSY created a sense of belonging, a community with space for learning and growth. I Developed friendships that are still strong and present today.” says Sherene.
Taking on a leadership role in 8th grade, Sherene never imagined the role NCSY would play in changing not only her life but the lives of her siblings and her parents. Through NCSY, Sherene forged a lasting, positive connection to Judaism, created lifelong friendships, changed countless lives, and inspired change in all those close to her. The rewards of her journey are countless, and we could not be prouder of Sherene and her role in inspiring the Jewish future.
Denise Badreau Tamam