“You’ve got to see it to believe it.”
That was guest of honor Rabbi Moshe Isenberg’s message at Midwest NCSY’s Annual Banquet, held on Tuesday, 11 Shevat/February 7, at the Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood.
“You’ve seen the video and heard about the impact NCSY has on today’s teens, but you won’t actually understand it until you see it firsthand,” said Rabbi Isenberg, who was honored with his wife, Devora, for 16 years of dedication to NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. “NCSY sees the spark of the neshamah and knows how to fan the flames so that the spark truly ignites.”
Rabbi Isenberg, hailed for his creative, out-of-the-box thinking, worked in a variety of roles during his tenure at Midwest NCSY, including as Director of Junior NCSY, Associate Regional Director, and, most recently, as Midwest Executive Director, and Director of PR and Communications for National NCSY. Mrs. Isenberg served as a volunteer NCSY advisor for many years and was a true partner in her husband’s efforts.
According to Rabbi Isenberg, NCSY inspires not just the teens who attend its many outreach programs, but also its staff, volunteers and donors. He exhorted the nearly 300 community members in attendance to get actively involved and experience that inspiration for themselves.
“Have teens over for Shabbos. Come to a weekend convention or speak at a Latte & Learning,” said Rabbi Isenberg. “NCSY will become part of your family, like it has become part of mine.”
Rabbi Micha Greenland, NCSY’s International Director who worked closely with Rabbi Isenberg for many years, presented the Isenbergs with their award. He spoke about the “critical role” they played in inspiring so many teens to come closer to Yiddishkeit.
In his address at the banquet, Rabbi Donny Schwartz, Midwest NCSY’s Regional Director, described how there are thousands of teens today who are “facing a Yam Suf, not knowing how to forge a [Jewish] path.” Some lack education, while others have the knowledge but lack inspiration.
“NCSY plays the Nachshon role, leading and guiding teens at all levels as they move along their journey, building a greater connection to their heritage and to Hashem,” he said.
Rabbi Schwartz thanked the organization’s dedicated staff and generous supporters for helping NCSY fulfill its mission of inspiring the Jewish future.
“Together we are playing a critical role in ensuring the future of the Jewish people,” he said. “Together we are changing the trajectory of Jewish values for generations to come.”
One such teen who has been positively impacted by NCSY is Melanie Kagan, a public school student from Naperville, IL, who drove almost an hour to share her story at the banquet. Naperville has what Melanie described as a “whopping Jewish population of 0.17%,” and although she went to Hebrew school there for many years, she had difficulty finding Jewish activities to participate in as a teen.
It was the retired Hillel director at a local university who introduced Melanie and her family to Levi Zeffren, Midwest NCSY’s Chicagoland Director. Mr. Zeffren helped Melanie start a Jewish Student Union (JSU) club at her school, and convinced her to attend a Shabbaton.
Melanie described to the audience how she was “profoundly impacted” at the Shabbaton by the learning sessions, the divrei Torah, and especially the spirited singing and dancing at Havdalah. Shortly afterward, she spent Shabbos at the home of one of her newfound friends. “It was so inspiring, seeing things we did at [the Shabbaton] being done in somebody’s home. It made it real. It made it possible,” she said.
Through her involvement with NCSY, Melanie said she has seen the impact of belonging to a Jewish community. “I find it difficult to express just how amazing it feels to finally be surrounded by people who celebrate the same holidays and share the same values as me,” she said.
Melanie plans to head off to college in the fall, and she told the audience that she will choose a college based on the strength of the Jewish community on campus. “As soon as I experienced my first Shabbaton, I knew that I wanted to maintain a Jewish connection in n college. I have to thank all of you and NCSY for being the inspiration for my Jewish future.”