Monday, October 29, 2007

NCSY! Up for Discussion

Psychotoddler started it, Ezzie ran with it and now Westbankmama has an interesting survey up.

I have several questions for the college contingent (especially for advisors/ alumni.)

How did you become involved in NCSY?
Why are you/ were you an advisor?
How do you think being an advisor benefits the NCSYers?
How does it benefit you?
What's the most meaningful experience you have had with NCSY?

It would be great if this could turn into a discussion between advisors and/or people who know others who have been through the program or part of the program. It would be really interesting to get your feedback. It'd be especially interesting if you could identify which chapter you were part of and explain how it worked (as opposed to other regions, for instance.) I'd love to hear any anecdotes, stories or constructive criticism alumni or advisors have- as long as it is done in a respectful manner.

Thanks, I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say!


Ezzie said...

As far as I know, I've never been to an NCSY event in my life. :)

G said...

I'd love to long as it is done in a respectful manner.

Well if you're gonna take all the fun out of it. I fold.

westbankmama said...

Ok, anonymous, we all know what you are referring to. But NCSY was much larger than one creep - and the net effect was, and is, overwhelmingly positive. I know scores of people who would never have found Yiddishkeit without it.

Harry said...

NCSY has meant a lot of different things to me over the course of my involvement with the organization, and my history with them has spanned almost a decade now (dating back to 7th grade - and yes, that was with SR NCSY, not JR).

A little known fact to many is that NCSY got its start in the town where I am from, Savannah, GA among a few select other cities when the organization launched in the 50's. For a while the local chapter was very popular and active, but by the time I was involved in it by the late 90's, participation had dwindled greatly. At that time, it was primarily due to several unsucessful advisors and the booming expansion of the local BBYO chapter, which aside from the fact that the participants were Jewish (and that was not always halachically the case) everything else about them was considered a "normal" teenage life, meaning coed beach parties, dances etc, and the majority of parents who were not religious were afraid of their kids becoming more committed to Judaism than they were. The other side of the coin was that the more yeshivish crowd refused to send their kids to ANY coed events, and hence NCSY suffered.

So the SR NCSY crowd consisted of a few actual high schoolers, and several 7th and 8th graders at the local Orthodox (and only) day school. Initially, it was just a fun thing to do, getting away from school and one's parents, the Saturday night activities were always fun, and we got to go to exciting places that were very different than Savannah.

Things changed when I got to highschool - I was, at the time, part of the lesser religious but firmly traditional crowd - meaning we were strictly loyal to the Orthodox Shul, had family Shabbos meals together, went to shul every shabbos and yom tov (and had sedarim, built a succah etc), but weren't generally observant of kashrus and Shabbos etc. So instead of shipping out to a yeshiva or YHS, I went to a local very preppy private school. It was only there that I actually became interested in increasing my observance, and I set out on my own path to do so.

Part of that (one part of many) was my involvement with NCSY. At that point, all my peers, who had formerly done NCSY with me in 7th and 8th grade, shifted to the more carefree party-time attitude of BBYO and left NCSY and all of their religious affiliations (stemming from 12 years in the day school) behind. So I was basically alone in my quest for religious identity. I decided to go to the Shabbatonim anyway, even if it was just myself, the advisor and 1 or 2 other high school students (who were older than me and not in my circle of friends).

It was there that I found a group of friends (and not so much the advisors per se) who became my support group. The program we were a part of, run somewhat independently of the overall region was called CAP - Community Assistance Program - which was basically NCSY focused on cities like Savannah, Jacksonville, Charleston, and others who lacked a Yeshiva High School, and hence all the participants were in secular public and private schools. We had a solid group of 40 or so teens who were all coming together not solely for the purpose of getting away from parents and socializing, but to come together and actually grow and learn more about Judaism from one another and support each other in our own experiences.

I very vividly remember the stories of several friends from those days who were also fighting long and arduous battles with their parents in an effort to become more observant. One girl in particular from Jacksonville BECAME A VEGETARIAN so that she could continue eating in her parents home when they refused to make their kitchen kosher. That was one of several awe-inspiring moments of those times.

I was later appointed to the Regional Board my Senior year in Highschool, and my involvement with the region at large was a very different experience from my CAP career. Namely since Shabbatonim consisted of 400-500 teens instead of 60-70, and everything in general was a lot crazier. It was a fun year, and my fellow regional board memebers were definitely some of my closest friends from those days (some still are).

Anywho, I now find myself as an advisor for that same Southern Region (despite its overhaul and reformatting in the years following my graduation and 2 years in Israel). Why am I involved in NCSY in general? Because I had a lot of fun as an NCSY and the college-aged advisors really made the whole experience fun and interesting, and I want to attempt to give back in a manner which I myself benefitted during those years. Why specifically Southern - because I want to be involved in the expansion and growth of the Savannah community, which has actually increased its NCSY participation with our new and very successful NCSY/youth activities director.

The advisors, more than anyone else - and yes that can include the regional advisors and directors - have the biggest impact on the kids. Particularly if they are "normal" but still religiously observant. It can be a new sight for the kids who, more often than not, and EVEN (or perhaps I should say particularly) from Orthodox/Modern Orthodox homes never really understand or see that there can be a synthesis between being religious and being a normal person who also has fun etc.

For my personal benefit as of now, I enjoy watching the Savannah Chapter grow. It's also fun to engage the participating students in conversation, and share common interests - again showing them that one can be "normal," yes observant.

My most meaningful experience would probably be the Regional Board shabbatonim we had during my Senior year in high school. We were a really great group of kids, and I very much enjoyed being in the company of teenaged leaders who were committed to their observance of Judaism. That was a very enlightening and fun year.

SJ said...

I was involved in West Coast NCSY in high school, but more as a social thing than for religious reasons. I was too shy to talk to advisors, and they didn’t seek me out, so I didn’t really gain much from it religiously—though the awesome havdalahs were pretty inspiring.

I am now an advisor for the Long Island region. It is very different than West Coast, primarily because it deals with New Yorkers—both advisors and kids. The Jewish world here is different than “out of town.”

I enjoy being an advisor because I think I have a chance to really make a difference. Though I’m not one of the super-advisors who calls 20 kids erev shabbos and has 7 chavrusas a week, I believe that even the small things I do with/for the kids can have an impact. I don’t try to change their world views, or launch into deep discussions right away. I just try to make conversation, to talk to kids who look uncomfortable, to laugh and help them enjoy the shabbatons. I think that just letting kids know that you can be frum and cool and friendly and normal is important.

When I have interactions with kids who come from non-religious backgrounds, but have taken steps toward becoming more religious, it inspires me. These kids put in so much effort just to be Jewish that it reminds me how lucky I am and how much harder I can and should work at my own Judaism. Also, the kids from non-religious backgrounds tend to ask questions that I would never have thought of on my own…they ask about every little detail, many that I never stopped to consider before. Every time I’m stumped for an answer, it reminds me how much I still have to learn, and how I shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Working in NCSY can definitely be quite challenging. I have had quite a few bad experiences (for some reason, I often get really difficult kids in my room). I have been shocked by how horrible and rude certain kids have been to me. I’ve been confronted by situations I really didn’t know how to handle, and have been really uncomfortable. A few times, I have wished that I hadn’t come in the first place. But thank G-d, this behavior doesn’t represent the vast majority of the kids, and for the most part, it has been a positive experience, and I have really gained from it--and hopefully given something too.

Anonymous said...

Waaaay to culty for my liking. It takes a very specific personality to be comfortable in such an organization.

Back of Chana's Classroom said...

To whom this may concern: I am a four year unrepentant NCSY SEG (Summer Experience for Girls) participant/staff member who loved it. Although I was raised in a great family, I loved SEG (and later on, NCSY Michlelet)because it made me feel that I was not alone. That one is not a freak if one likes to learn and seeks truth. They also brought me out of my shell somewhat.
My cousin convinced me to try it. Though I feared it sounded like school, I went. I went back to work as an advisor because I felt it was a matter of hakarat HaTov, and that perhaps I could help someone in the way that it helped me. Even if a staff member could not necessarily help me with my issue, at least I could have a sympathetic ear. Although I had many meaningful experiences, I'll have to say you haven't lived until you've written pro-religious graffiti on John Lennon's Wall in Prague (Michlelet 04. It just felt like a defiant moment; where I feared no one else's opinions of who I was and what I did, and I no longer felt like a shy little mouse who wondered if she was a freak because she liked to learn.
OK Chana, am I yotzai?

your jhis classmate said...

How did you become involved in NCSY?
never wasan ncsyer became an advisor after israel, spoke to a rabbi who is very involved and he suggested a certain region and then i started
Why are you/ were you an advisor?
ilove judiasm and want to share it with others, also love hanging out with teenagers/the environment on shabbatons, and also have the need to use my kochos of conencting with people in a positive manner
How do you think being an advisor benefits the NCSYers?
everyone needs role models and mentors, for me this is people who are older than me whose paths are somewhat similar to the one i see myself taking that i can look to for advice, encouragement, support etc. i dont look to 80 yesar olds, i look to ppl a few years to a couple of decades older than me, dpendingon what i am dealing with at the moment, the same thing that these people give to me is what i give to ncsyers. advice from someone who cares about them (of course that also means their judaism as that is an integral part of a jew) who is a little bit farther along in the path of life

How does it benefit you?
Im ayn anili, mi li, v'im ani rack bshvili...mah ani? (or something like that)

What's the most meaningful experience you have had with NCSY?
there are so many powerful experiences im not sure what to say but i think the chavrusahs, conversations and relationships i have with my ncsyers year-round/inbeteen shabbatons and the regional yarchei kallah of a region that shall remain unmentioned are the top experiences...