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entries tagged with: National Council Of Synagogue Youth


Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Out of the mouths of babes…

The college campus has been a battleground for public opinion on Israel for several years now, and the flotilla fiasco is sure to create passionate debate there. Jewish educators are moving quickly to get the facts out to high school and college students so they can be better prepared for what’s ahead.

“It’s important they know how to respond substantively. It’s important they know how to respond for their own Jewish pride so they do not feel like a victim,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, director of the New Jersey region of National Council of Synagogue Youth, whose office is in Teaneck.

NCSY’s national office, under the auspices of the Orthodox Union in New York, recently sent out a list of talking points to its regions to teach teenagers the facts of the flotilla incident so they can respond constructively when Israel is criticized.

Hillel of Northern New Jersey, run by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, Bergen Community College in Paramus, William Paterson University in Wayne, and Ramapo College in Mahwah, is on a summer hiatus but is planning for the fall, said director Rabbi Ely Allen.

Hillel is considering a number of Israel advocacy programs such as The David Project and Stand With Us to partner with in the fall, Allen said.

Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s community shaliach and director of its Israel Programs Center, is beginning work on a program to teach high school upperclassmen and college students the history of the region in order to make them more effective spokespeople for Israel.

“That’s where you really need to give the tools and the information to make it work,” Levy said.

Unlike the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when Israel responded to Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers and launching of thousands of rockets at the Jewish state, Israel is much more isolated in this public relations battle, and kids feel that, Glasser said. That, he said, combined with the fact that so much of this campaign is being waged on the Internet — specifically on social networking sites such as Facebook — can affect teenagers’ confidence in defending the Jewish state.

“There’s more sense of being cornered,” he said. “The teenagers in this particular instance really are feeling the overwhelming display of criticism from around the world. The sense of [Israel’s] isolation is one the kids are plugged into.”

United Synagogue Youth, part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has been forwarding e-mail and other resources to its regions, but its members have really taken on the battle on social networking sites, said USY director Jules Gutin, a Teaneck resident.

“There’s a lot that has appeared on various social networking sites that the leadership of USY has forwarded to each other,” he said. Members “have such an active network among themselves, and the leadership has such an active network.”

Gutin highlighted what teens can do because of their vast connections through the Internet.

“They can play a very important role, both among their peers and communities, in trying to do their best to make sure the facts come through and trying to counter much of the distortion that we see in newspapers and the press and various speeches,” he said.

Glasser would like to see more parents draw their children into current-events discussions and encourage them to voice their opinions.

“If you want them to connect to Israel, you have to connect them to the discussion,” Glasser said.


N.J. Jewish teens volunteer in Minnesota to help areas ravaged by Mississippi River

NCSY volunteers gather outside City Hall and a flood-damaged café in Hammond, Minn., along with the owners of the café and NCSY’s partners from the NECHAMA disaster relief organization. Photos courtesy TABC

Fifteen members of the New Jersey region of the National Council of Synagogue Youth volunteered in Minnesota last month to help clean out homes — and Oronoco Park — flooded by three to six feet of water from the Zumbro, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

The Orthodox group, which worked in three different towns near Rochester, worked closely with NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster, an organization that provides direct support to communities recovering from natural disasters. It also spent one day working with 30 Jewish teens across the denominational spectrum.

The fifteen volunteers are students at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck; Teaneck High School; Fair Lawn High School; and Northern Highlands High School in Allendale. Rabbi Ethan Katz, assistant regional director of New Jersey NCSY, led the group, and the trip was staffed by Rabbi Michael Hoenig, NCSY adviser, of Teaneck, and Rabbi Josh Kahn, dean of student life at TABC, of Bergenfield.

trip and share

This is the fourth year that TABC and NCSY “have partnered to bring a group of 15 high school boys on a disaster relief mission,” according to Kahn. “The annual experience is life-changing for our group. Doing disaster relief work with … NECHAMA,” which means “comfort,” “helps our students understand that they are Jewish ambassadors. Our students see in a very real way that they can and do make a difference in someone else’s life. It is a valuable way to gain perspective on what really matters and the need to include community service as part of our life. It is especially meaningful,” Kahn wrote in an e-mail, “when someone has tears in their eyes and says that although all of their possessions were ruined, at least this experience opened their eyes to seeing that there are good people in the world. Or that the future is bright because of the kind of teenagers here.”

NCSY’s Katz said, “This was our most amazing trip yet. I am extremely proud of our students, who tackled any assignment they were given with tremendous spirit and eagerness to assist and improve the communities in Minnesota. They truly rose to the occasion and worked as a team to accomplish the set tasks; they were a tremendous Kiddush HaShem.”

The TABC volunteers were Philip Blass, Oren Elsas, Gideon Finkelstein, Jonathan Fuchs, Netanel Lederer, Zachary Margulies, Jonathan Packer, David Schwartzman, Matthew Silverman, and Avi Strauss.

Volunteers from Fair Lawn High School were Jonathan Holzsager, Zachary Lipson, and Levi Ryablov. Avishua Stein and Phil Katz were volunteers from, respectively, Teaneck and Northern Highlands high schools.

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