By Batya Graber
Bringing more than 1,000 teens together from across North America, Yom NCSY is an annual event where all NCSY summer programs traveling throughout Israel have an opportunity to unite and bond in appreciation for their amazing summer experience. NCSY uses this opportunity to create a venue with VIP status and epic entertainment. The air at this year's venue, Mini Israel park, pulsed with excitement as teens, NCSY alum, and friends overflowed the park’s amphitheater for an evening of special guests; Israel’s most dynamic performers; impromptu interviews; ruach and tons of cheering; singing; and a firework extravaganza finale.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. The summer programs represented at Yom NCSY included: GIVE (Girls Israel Volunteer Experience); ICE (Israel and Central Europe); Kollel for boys (Torah learning and sports); Michlelet for girls (Torah learning and traveling); The Jerusalem Journey | TJJ) (touring); and The Jerusalem Journey Ambassadors | TJJA (touring and political advocacy).
Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, who celebrates his 20th anniversary with the organization this year, reflected upon the program, “Yom NCSY is the largest gathering of teenagers coming to Israel on summer programs from North America. The purpose of this event is to strengthen lifelong friendships, allow teens to create new bonds with other Jewish teens of all backgrounds, and unite all NCSY summer program participants to appreciate the incredible summers they have all been privileged to enjoy. The buzz of the event lingers year-long; it’s an amazing experience.”
This year’s Yom NCSY took place at Mini Israel, a park of miniature replications of the country’s most recognized landmarks. The themes of the evening strengthened the messages emphasized across the board of each NCSY summer program: Ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people), Ahavat Ha’Aretz (love of the Jewish Homeland), and Ahavat Ha’Torah (love of the Torah).
As one participant on NCSY GIVE (Girls Israel Volunteer Experience) remarked, “We arrived at Yom NCSY in full GIVE gear — our GIVE fanny packs, GIVE skirts and GIVE bandanas. Let's just say, our GIVErs were GIVE-aldik! Their ruach, energy and big smiles were contagious. Everyone quickly began to realize that although we arrived less than one week ago, we were already becoming a family.”
According to a teen on NCSY’s The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), “I saw so many people I met at the winter NCSY conclave! We talked a lot and hugged a lot, then started walking around the Mini Israel exhibit. It was so amazing to see all the little buildings detailed enough that we could recognize them as say ‘we were there last week!’ We made our way to the concert bleachers and sat down. Little did I know I wouldn’t sit again for the rest of the night.”
Another TJJ participant noted, “The light show was amazing. The way that the lights, which appeared in purple, red, blue and green, moved three dimensionally, and in waves was almost surreal. Percussionists began to play their drums and the crowd of more than 1,000 teenage Jews began to scream. The rest of the time there were teens dancing and singing and cheering — it was an all-around great time.”
According to the evening’s keynote speaker, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue, “The beauty of this event is the diversity represented – some teens came to Israel to learn Torah, others came to tour, and others to do chesed. From public schools and yeshivas, men and women, Yom NCSY celebrates what brings us together as Jews – as Jews seeking to grow, and Jews united from where we have come and to where we want to go.”
Rabbi Goldberg continued with his message to the teens, “We live in a world in which we are constantly confronted with our mortality. In Judaism, the here and now is the only dimension we are able to change. We can decide who we want to be. You are all here on incredible programs, surrounded by amazing teachers, counselors and friends. Use your moments of inspiration, and transform them from fleeting experiences, to moments to do chesed, to learn Torah, and become who you can be.”
According to a participant on NCSY’s TJJA program, “I go to a Jewish school, and I knew of the places we would visit – but I really didn’t get what makes the land of Israel so special before this summer. I feel alive. I feel proud.”
On behalf of Yom NCSY co-sponsor Touro College, Dr. Alan Kadish, Touro President and CEO, welcomed the teens via video, launching into personalized video segments highlighting the experiences of the 12 NCSY summer programs in attendance.