This weekend I attended a Regional NCSY Convention. It was the third shabbaton I’ve attended with this region, and like the two shabbatonim before it, it was an amazing experience.
As an advisor, I was there to hang out with the kids, and that’s what I did. I reconnected with kids I had met on the previous shabbatonim, and met new kids as well. I find NCSY incredibly inspiring because it brings together Jewish teens from all different backgrounds with advisors who are excited and committed to Yahadus (not to mention a little nuts, for the most part) as well as staff and administration who are so dedicated that it’s almost hard to fathom.
I personally believe that being involved in organizations like NCSY is one of the most important things that a young Jewish adult can do. Reaching out to high-schoolers to show them that being Jewish can be fun, cool, and inspirational is absolutely crucial to the survival of the Jewish people. The intermarriage rate today is devastating, and far too many kids have no idea what Judaism means.
Over the weekend, I became close with two girls from a public school located in a community with no religious Jewish life at all. These girls had attended the “Hebrew Culture Club” run by NCSY in their school, and had been persuaded by the head (the Director of Outreach for the region) to come to regional. They knew absolutely nothing about Judaism, and definitely didn’t know what they were getting into when they signed up to come for the weekend. (The head of outreach later told me that during a discussion of intermarriage in the club one week, both of the girls had said that they’d marry non-Jews without hesitation.) I hung out with these girls practically the entire time, and it was really fun. They were supernice girls, and unlike many of the day school kids, actually listened when I asked them to do something or go somewhere. Yet, these really sweet girls didn’t know what shabbos was, couldn’t figure out why we were constantly praying out of backward books, and were fazed by the idea of wearing a skirt for all of Saturday. I didn’t push any information on them, but instead tried to make sure that they had a good time. I really think that the most important part of being an advisor is just making a connection with the kids, really being a friend and showing them that you care—and the rest will follow naturally.
On the shabbaton I also had the opportunity to meet/re-meet many many kids whose lives have been changed by NCSY—kids who have started keeping kosher, who are dying to keep shabbos in a non-shomer-shabbos home, who want nothing more than for their parents to allow them to go to day school, or to Israel after high school. Seeing people (high school kids, no less!) who sacrifice and struggle so much to be better Jews never fails to inspire me. Too often I take my life for granted—the fact that it is so easy for me to keep shabbos and kosher, the fact that I have opportunities to learn Torah everywhere I turn, the fact that I am surrounded by so many wonderful examples of Torah Judaism. Seeing kids who have to fight for every inch, for every mitzvah, reminds me that I am incredibly lucky. As much as one may think that the advisors are on the shabbaton to give to the kids, I find that the kids are often the ones who end up giving to the advisors (as cliché as it may sound, it’s true!).
Overall, it was a wonderful (and completely exhausting) experience, and I can’t wait for Winter Regional!