YouthCon and NCSY Staff Conference

We’ve discussed YouthCon a bit over the past few weeks and now that we can discuss it in the past tense, it did not disappoint. If anything, it exceeded the incredibly high expectations. Over 600 professionals attended. Over 100 institutions sent participants. Over fifty speakers represented an incredible array of organizations from across the Jewish spectrum.

One of the program highlights was YouthCon Sparks, in which a series of speakers gave back-to-back presentations on trending topics in the Jewish community, such as spirituality, social responsibility, networking, and more. Presenters for this portion of the program included David Bryfman (Jewish Educational Project – formerly the BJE), Ilan Caplan(AJWS), Robyn Faintich (JewishGPS), Sarah Lefton (, Charlie Harary(Milvado) and moderator Solly Hess of NCSY.

Rabbi Dr. Girl Perl, Dean of the Margolin Hebrew Academy spoke about “good to great” in the Jewish community, relating it to the latest hot topic of “half-Shabbos,” the euphemism, employed by otherwise Sabbath-observant teens who text on Shabbos. A number of speakers also served as mentors, spending time in one-on-one sessions speaking with participants about their particular areas of expertise.

Also in attendance were representatives of 80 shuls, who attended a post-program reception hosted by Synagogue Services at which I was privileged to speak. You can read more about YouthCon in this article from the Stamford Advocate.

YouthCon was immediately followed by the NCSY Staff Conference. Over 200 NCSY professionals from the US, Canada and abroad gathered to network, and to share best practices, challenges and solutions. Over fifty classes and training modules were offered to enhance staff members’ professional, educational and marketing skills. Among the many topics were such relevant areas as social media, management, event planning and more.

One highlight of the program was the emphasis of Torah text study as a core component of the NCSY educational experience. Accordingly, a number of sessions addressed the educational methodology of teaching Tanach, Torah sheb’al peh, tefillah and more. (I was privileged to lead the session on teaching Tanach.)

Noted educator Lori Palatnik served as the keynote speaker at the Staff Conference as well as a speaker and mentor at YouthCon. She also met individually with staff members, which was greatly appreciated by all who were fortunate enough to have the experience.

Other highlights of the Staff Conference included an awards ceremony recognizing the “Best of the Best,” plus those staff members who have completed ten years and eighteen years of service with NCSY. Additionally, partnership awards were presented to Nechama and Ner Le’Elef for their exemplary work. The program closed with an entertaining and informative debate between Rabbi Yaakov Glasser (Regional Director of New Jersey NCSY and Director of Education for International NCSY) and Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone (Regional Director of New York NCSY) on matters of institutional priorities.

Rhoda Weisman served as chair of YouthCon, which was ably assembled by Duvi Stahler, Rina Emerson, Dovid Bashevkin, Penny Pazornik, Keevy Fried, and the entire International NCSY Team under the leadership of International Director Rabbi Steven BurgRabbi Yaakov Glasser served as emcee of the staff conference with his own inimitable flair.