Tuesday, November 20, 2007

YU and NCSY Dinner & Discussion

As usual, these notes are unofficial and unedited. Any and all mistakes are mine. Notes to be further edited upon receipt of an audio file of the lecture.

Rabbi Burg, President Joel, Rabbi Schacter and Rabbi Solomont were all involved in this presentation. The event was put together by Marc Fein, Presidential Fellow in the Office of the President and Eliana Rudolph, Associate Director of Special Projects at NCSY. This was a special evening for NCSY employees and volunteer advisors who are currently enrolled or graduates of Yeshiva University to get together for dinner and discussion with the aforementioned Rabbis and President Joel.

I apologize if I left anyone out and will be happy to acknowledge you if that is the case.


Rabbi Solomont:

…to defer from the local college he was planning to attend to study for the first post high-school yeshiva year in Israel. As the saying goes, I was that boy. Really, I was that boy. So tonight we come together to recognize the impact that YU students have had on thousands for the past five decades. No one made more of an impact on Jewish teens than NCSY and no one has made more of an impact than YU students- if YU students who were also counselors at HASC, even better. Share your love of Torah with others (challenging to be a YU student)- creates worlds and enables dreams- no one more passionate about this partnership than our President, Richard Joel. Klei kodesh and lay kodesh incubates itself in NCSY- investment Pres Joel has made to implement your success is unprecedented. Rabbi Burg represents best of what we can all aspire to accomplish, (gives list of qualifications, now JSU director)- friend- and he is enabled and ennobled. (laughter) There is not much that can be said to welcome and thank Rabbi Schacter- what I can say is that when he talks, people listen- when Rav in Boston unparalleled support people in New England- profound understanding for your commitment, your dedication and your potential- together we can learn from each other and be inspired together- work critical and important- progress for the future for people who are here who are steeped in the value of a Torah existence- like to introduce Rabbi Schacter.

Rabbi Schacter:

Source Sheet 1
Source Sheet 2

President Joel, Rabbi Burg, Rabbi Solomont, Rabbi Glasser, morei rabosai- want to thank Rabbi Solomont very much for the introduction- extremely committed to and excited about the work of NCSY- always have been and when moved to Boston and saw what Rabbi Solomont was doing in the ner region, admiration only grew. Rabbi Solomont in years that he served as director was one of the most successful NCSY directors (is this on, not on- microphone problems) – have to participate in this very very special occasion. (now they fix the mikes)

(MASSIVE FEEDBACK from sound system and we clap our hands over our ears)

PRES JOEL: Got their attention.

Also want to acknowledge the presence of the President of Yeshiva University who is so important to us in so many different ways and particularly on behalf of NCSY to thank him for his unbelievable contribution to the work of NCSY- many of us don’t really know the extent of that contribution- some of us do, all of us are extremely grateful- NCSY today is at the level of impeccable excellence largely because of the work of so many of you- and work of advisors and directors and also because of the work of our president so all of us collectively express to him our hakarat hatov.

Also happy to be here with Rabbi Burg, one of the most talented and exciting NCSY directors in many years, succeeded in bringing him from east to west- really a privilege to be here with him, thank you for the invitation

What I'd like to do first is thank all of you very much for all the work that you do- I hope you get thanked, I would expect that you get thanked, maybe you get thanked by people who work with you within the context of NCSY but also want to thank you on behalf of kelal yisrael and Jewish people- work that you do to expose Jewish people to warmth, beauty, music of what to us is so precious cannot possibly be overestimated- the significance, the connections, nitzcihus, eternity that you bring to countless Jewish families is what helps Jewish future be what it will be- it does a lot for you- it gives you chizuk, gives you strength, forces you to clarify and explain all kinds of concepts and ideas that you might have taken for granted- not only do you grow but talmidim/ talmidot grow as well- you do precious and holy work. HKBH should give you the sechar that you deserve and that will bring beauty and warmth to the future of the Jewish people

I wanted in few minutes that I have to try to frame what I believe you do in a particular context- some of you have been doing this for a while already, all good at what you do- I want to put a few assumptions on the table that I have had on my work in outreach, even continue to do what you intuitively do- from a diff kind of perspective- important to understand where young men and women sitting in the room are coming from- so if you all have a copy of the sheet-

Look at the top of the sheet – I xeroxed a cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine- I did the best that I could and here’s the cartoon- parents on the right hand side of indeterminate age both leaned over looking at a kid, one of whose knees is raised up in the air lying back on the couch- kid looks like maybe nine, ten, eleven, parents look like they are maybe in their forties- having a serious conversation with kid- we think maybe it’ time that you started getting some religious instruction- there’s catholic, protestant and Jewish- any of those sound good to you?

The assumption in the cartoon is that we have no idea whether the parents are Jewish, Protestant or Catholic- the kid makes the decision about what religion- parents not invested in any one of these traditions and the parents say to kid you make the decision- first fundamental principle of young men and women who walk into our doors is that THEY are making choices- they have the capacity to make choices- living in context and society that places a premium on making choices-d gone were the days where there were expected modes of behavior. kids grow up and can do whatever they want-

Turn page to the side and I xeroxed for you from cover of a report recently issued by Reboot- Reboot is one of these cutting edge organizations in New York that keeps track of what’s going on in fringes and not just fringes of our community- “Grande Soy Vanilla Latte with Cinnamon, No Foam- Jewish Identity and Community in Time of Unlimited Choices.” What’s going on in today’s world? Unlimited choices- Starbucks cup with options on side- umpteen permutations- this cover has boxes for kosher/ family/ activism/ mikvah/ matisyahu/ medictation and the biggest box is other. What does other mean? other means whatever you want it to mean- what I decide, what you put in, none of the above- we’re living in a time of unlimited choices- this means 2 things- and this is the mindset I believe of the children, young adults, teenagers that you deal with- think if you have this in mind it will be helpful for you for transmitting substance of message you want to transmit.

Number one is: Why should I be doing this? Make a case. I can choose to do anything, I can choose to watch television, go to ballgame, veg out- nobody is forcing me, school isn’t forcing me- I’m deciding, make a case why I should be here as opposed to there- our burden and responsibility to make such a case- strengthening their choice for having chosen to engage with us (they are in the room now- they chose- for some reason they were inspired/ motivated to choose to come into that room) and you’re going to motivate them and inspire them to stay in that room- because like they came in they can leave- who is going to stop them? Living in society where everyone does what they want- shame on us if we can’t figure out a way to keep them. Shehechiyanu v’kiyamanu that they walked into the door- why should I care- why should I be engaged, help me understand the choice that I made and inspire me to continue to make that choice- that’s number one

Second fundamental presupposition of young people with whom we engage and most times clearly unstated but out there is individualism- I am an individual- I am not a cookie cutter I want to be different- we place a premium on being diff- don’t want to be just like everyone else- ever since I’m a little girl my mother told me I was special- to be special means to be diff. Now I walk into an NCSY event and all of a sudden told about torah and mitzvoth- there goes my specialness- not special more- everyone has to keep this (shaitel, lulav, shabbos) – so one of the mitzvos stronger- so what’s going to make me special? How can I continue to maintain my uniqueness, my individuality? This is America- this is America; we do what we want- part of inspiring someone to choose to be here is to come up with a way to help them understand that they could continue to maintain their singularity, their uniqueness, their individuality in spite of the fact that they are now moving towards becoming committed to a halakhic system which on the face of it is an equalizer. on face of it, all the same- we all do exactly the same thing, it’s in the shulchan aruch- can’t choose how to put on tefillin, how to light candles, no it says in the book- I don’t want that because I am an American- it’s a free country

Two underlying issues- context of choice and then within that, the issue of individuality- if you can’t make a case that I can maintain my own individuality then I am out of here because I am not special anymore- I’m a Chaim Yankel, Sarah Rifka like everyone else- look at top of second page I xeroxed from you for book that’s a must-read for you- anyone engaged today in dealing with teenagers and religion must read book called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Vibes of American Teenagers- we walk in and we say shehechiyanu- I know and I’m erlich and I’m shtark and I’m inspirational and I’m charismatic and holding the best sechorah because I have Torah- figure out best way to get to kids- you need to know what they’re at before you start to talk to them- and this book says it straight- doesn’t necessarily speak about Jewish community but TOTALLY speaks about Jewish community- where is a kid in America at today in terms of a religious awareness?
    American youth, like American adults, are nearly without exception profoundly individualistic, instinctively presuming autonomous, individual self direction to be a universal human norm and life goal. Thoroughgoing individualism is not a contested orthodoxy for teenagers. It is an invisible and pervasive doxa, that is, an unrecognized, unquestioned, invisible premise of presupposition. U.S. teenagers’ profound individualism informs a number of issues related to religion. (143)
Need to figure out a way to address two issues- why should I choose to be there? Really don’t need to check your neshama, interbeing, individuality at door when you enter religion.

I want to suggest something that I have thought about a lot- Kenny Pollack is here and was in class I taught and I am teaching this right now in Stern College- want to leave you with two texts- two texts that will hopefully address these 2 issues:

My Prof- Professor Twersky in grad school wrote an article in 1974 called “Religion and Law” talks about religion in manifestation vs religion in essence – we place a premium on religion in manifestation- walk into shul and see me holding a lulav and esrog and shaking it, you know exactly what I’m doing, come into my house on Pesach night see me chewing something- public, demonstrable, by my engagement in that act I am professing my religiosity.

In the world of religion of essence there lies a lot of the answers to the challenges that we face- religion in essence is personal, private. Heard Rabbi Soloveitchik say many times that God does not want me to be a robot. God does not want me to be a monkey. Robot and monkey can also shake lulav. I am a human being! I have to bring my humanity into my mitzvot- someone can be more of a rationalist, some people more of a mystic, some go to yeshivish minyan Friday night, some go to Carlebach minyan…we all relate to God in different ways. Rambam different from Baal HaTanya, Gaon different from ____ Yehoshua- not cookie cutter, not the same- need to place tremendous premium on centrality of religion in essence-

That’s what will attract our young people.

Rabbi Soloveitchik- this is a quote from hesped for Machatenese (late teacher’s mother) Tolner Rebbetzin- Rabbi Sol’s daughter was married to my teacher who was the Tolner Rebbetzin- they were machatonim

gave a talk and talk was written up later on- bottom right- this is from Tradition 17 (1978) :77 – A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne:
    I admit that I am not able to define precisely the masoretic role of the Jewish mother. Only by circumscription I hope to be able to explain it. Permit me to draw upon my own experience. I used to have long conversations with my mother. In fact, it was a monologue rather than a dialogue. She talked and I “happened” to overhear. What did she talk about? I must use an halakhic term in order to answer this question: she talked me-inyana de-yoma. I used to watch her arranging the house in honor of a holiday. I used to see her recite prayers; I used to watch her recite the sidra every Friday night and I still remember the nostalgic tune. I learned from her very much.

    Most of all I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvoth. I learned from her the most important thing in life- to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive.
Not just doing it, not just acting it, it’s feeling it, experiencing it; it’s making it mine and the way that I make it mine is diff from the way that you make it yours- don’t think for a second that you have to drop your individuality when engaged in godly relations- lulav- shake the lulav, what does it mean to you- what’s the symbolism, how does it resonate with you- that’s where the beauty is, that’s where the warmth is- to inhere the act with meaning- that’s where the geshmack is, that’s where the warmth is, that’s what Rabbi Soloveitchik learned from his mother.
    The laws of Shabbat, for instance, were passed on to me by my father; they are part of mussar avikha. The Shabbat as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother; it is a part of torat imekha. The fathers knew much about the Shabbat; the mothers lived the Shabbat, experienced her presence, and perceived her beauty and splendor.

    The fathers taught the generations how to observe the Shabbat; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbat and how to enjoy her twenty-four hour presence.
So if we consciously understand that underlying every conversation that we have with all the young men and women are the following 2 premises:

1. I have chosen to be here, help me understand why
2. I want to be here but I want to be here- the I-ness in me wants to be here

then talk consciously about religious manifestation- non negotiable laws and halakhot- but consciously say, model and transmit that the full totality of a religious commitment is twofold- not just to do the act but also to live the act, to sing the act, to experience the act- that makes it more meaningful and explains to them why they’re here- and also allows them in a real profound way to continue to maintain their own personalism and individualism as move further and further along in beauty and greatness of shemiras mitzvos to which we want to expose them. I want to wish you greatest hatzlacha in doing meleches shamayim mamash- not only caring about yourselves but also about your fellow Jews- greatest thing you could possibly be doing- HKBH yeshalem secharam.

Rabbi Burg (people in the crowd are singing for him):

When I found out that I was going to be speaking between Rabbi Schacter and President Joel, I felt a little like mincha on Yom Kippur- kind of there so you can catch a breath and go on to the main event- zechus to be there and to catch your breath- just in Omaha and exec never met orthodox rabbi before with a bunch of groupies- every time he got up YU students heering in background- truly moved by things he had to say- spend a lot of time at Federation world and for them to …to be moved is just outstanding- so I would like to thank Rabbi Schacter- want to thank Ari Solomont, Rabbi Ari Solomont who is…this is absolute- been outstanding and incredible making sdure we are doing our job to get the kids to

Also want to thank Marc Fein, Presidential Fellow at President Joel’s office…Assistant Director of Upstate New York to take over- we’re looking forward to his coming on board next year, is that possible?

Also want to thank wife Rachel Burg who is here- travel quite a bit- don’t often get to go out so asked her if she wanted to get some Chinese tonight (laughter) follow our closest friends, like the Verizon network that follows you where you go

Comments tonight are really directly related to President Joel. He warned me- with threats of inflicting bodily harm not to dwell on praising him- but it is important to put his leadership into context- context and especially historical context is important in what we do to understand what we do and where we are going.

Barack Obama saying he is NOT a product of sixties, very very different from many people- we also as Jewish people have gone through those diff formulative experiences- certainly going back 60 or 70 years – educational process that was at work here was very similar to Europe- didn’t have full appreciation for that till started working for NCSY in Detroit- met many parents whose parents had grown up and gone through orthodox system- father said he went to Yeshiva- asked what it was like –and he said “both cheeks’- saying that’s the way they were disciplined- sent people running through door- not god forbid malicious and had no evil intet but just system that they brought over from old country

Educational movement that said it can/ should be different- NCSY in 1960s- one of them who I’ve talked to often is Rabbi Stoker- Upstate New York stories- every Shabbaton had a struggle to have mechitzah for davening and separate dancing- adults always against it, rabbis always against it- and as it turned out the teens were okay with it- all kinds of stories of battles back and forth and in the end of the day he and so many people preached that if you just give them authentic Judaism they’ll like it and they’ll enjoy it- that was a basic fundamental change in way we approached education- in 70s right here on Amsterdam avenue regional directors running regions out of their dorm room- basic educational approach where ___ still hadn’t caught up to them- President Joel is a product of that, seminars, Shabbatons, this push for informal education, this push for teens to say that wow, there can be something really fun about my Judaism. many years struggled against schools, even remember this, when we would want to run a Shabbaton when would start on Friday and schools would say how can you pull kids out on Friday- Friday is a day of education- slowly but surely we kept up and schools began to see there was a real benefit there- now not a modern orthodox high school that does not have director of student affairs and that does not run its own Shabbatonim- here in Tristate area it’s run by you- alumni of NCSY who have gone into chinuch and understand how to take informal approach and apply it to education- for us, to have President Joel here, someone who understands Judaism needs to be enjoyed, needs to have fun- interviewed fellow recently for NCSY- who was very stiff- asked how do you feel about playing video games? He says that if that’s part of the job description, could learn-so I replied by saying that you don’t get it, you have fun with the kids, play video games and then learn a Rambam.

Not by coincidence here celebrating YUnite Shabbaton, Mechinah progam, culminating 52 years (something about 52 years) – here to scour the country to reach out for those kids- if I had been 3 or 4 weeks ago would say 186 JSU clubs in country, now have 210 (clapping) – Rabbi Glasser sitting here- a year ago we started JSU with 2 or 3 clubs- today had conversation, by end of this year will have 30 clubs in new jersey. I think that Orthodoxy has turned the corner. I think that our parents or our grandparents really felt very defensive about being orthodox- not by coincidence that walk into lawyer – lawyers 40 and older will not wear kippah to work but younger will- different sense of pride in wearing it on your sleeve, at the GA- really our job to sit there and push this forward, show people that keeping torah and mitzvos is wonderful, great amazing dream- have this dream- shared with many of you- to take out full page ad in The New York Times with a picture of a large pot of cholent and say “At your local Orthodox shul this is the only thing that’ll be shoved down your throat”- 10% of world Orthodox Jews- so many people out there- we have to sit and talk in our dorm rooms and figure out how to get to 20%- all it’s going to take is for each one of us to befriend another Jew.

Can’t begin to tell you what Mechinah program has meant to NCSY- just received generous gift, TJJ (public school trip to Israel for unaffiliated kids) – cut the price in half to 2000 dollars (applause)…need to make sure these kids wind up right here on Amsterdam Avenue.


President Joel:

(something funny- laughter)

So much I want to share with you and you so much don’t deserve it at this hour after listening to two very fine presentations-frankly, really would love an opportunity to have open conversations so going to try to be really brief- I wish Rabbi Shacter were here because there were some- I have my own, my own perspectives on some of this and I really hate to admit that it comes from many years experience because I still think I’m 33 (laughter) but I’m not and there’s no one more surprised in this room for me to be standing here than me –for a whole lot of reasons- so if I am Neilah (laughter) it means you’re all hungry and you have to stand-

But you see- for most of the last 32 years of my life I’ve had the zechus of being shliach tzibur for Neilah in one of the 3 different shuls in communities in which we lived-and it's my favorite tefillah because I see it as an ascendant triumph, see it as certainty that tomorrow comes and we get stronger- I see it as an assurance that covenant with Ribbono Shel Olam continues- when we get to say “Pesach lanu sh’aar”- open these gates- absolutely assured this happens- and then when all together we understand that the purpose of Neilah is to say Shema Yisrael and Barukh Shem Kevod Malchuso- that the reason, the reason we are strong and proud is because we have to recognize our place in the world and the Creator’s place in the world- and eventually we get to say "Hashem hu haElokim" and when think of who Elokim is- when think of who the Lawgiver is, we think of who the master of the natural law, middat hadin- who he really is and recognize that his name is really Hashem- we know that we get to go on and that is an extraordinary thing- so Ne’ilah is ascendant to me and I want to thank you also for your ascendant work-

so much that I want to share but

My first Shabbaton as an NCSY advisor was when I was in MTA, when I was in high school- in those days as now most advisors for NCSY Shabbatonim were in college- somehow, some young guy called, named David Luchins- he knew that I played the accordion and they were desperate; Har Sinai was having a Shabbaton in Ellenville- remember it was winter- remember I got a call because played accordion; I would give occasional kumsitzes to the youth group in my shul in Yonkers- but nothing that should have been known but someone snitched so they were desperate enough to want a music person, so here I was, going in a series of 3 cars of advisors who went up to Ellenville in this old shul- remember Shabbaton with a couple of hundred students – all these unbelievable Yeshiva College/ Stern College students who were advisors- and I remember that here I was and they were treating me as though I weren’t a high school kid, involved like advisor- motzei Shabbat kumsitz and ruach dancing- and remember late at night, Motzei Shabbos, because they had to get back to class- before they dropped me off in Yonkers where I lived they first dropped off women at Beren- first time saw Stern women’s dorm.

Remember how ennobled I felt being part of that Shabbat where all enthusiastic students who could find themselves through NCSY and were hungry for that moment of celebration, and that really meant something to me- a few years later in May 1971 there was a Shabbaton in Yonkers where I lived, and it was a YU Shabbaton- we'll talk about history some other time, about NCSY and Yeshiva and NCSY grew out of Yeshiva, before NCSY was something called YUSCY, Yeshiva University Synagogue Council of Youth and then there was the division of the OU would take over the running of youth groups at Yeshiva University and that would be NCSY and Yeshiva University would be the educational resource and sponsor seminars of training and we'd talk about this great new day "chadesh yameinu k'kedem" and we'd talk about this wonderful, wonderful Mechinah program which is so important, I willed it into being because I remembered the JSS program in its heyday, because some of the greaters leaders in American Jewry today came through JSS after they came from a public school background and were able to grow. Different times, different societal structures but the same ideas but there was a Shabbaton in 1971; I was then a student at NYU, not at YU; I had such a splendid experience at MTA even wild horses couldn’t have gotten me to go to YU (laughter) and though I was kind of like a youth director of our shul in Yonkers and so there was the equivalent of NCSY Shabbatonim- all these advisors from YU came, they were all college students, they were all my age, but they were masters in youth groups and I was nothing except I played the accordion, even less than nothing. And it was on that Shabbaton in May 1971 that I met this girl-and for the first time in my life I was blown away by the girl, Orthodox and beautiful and lovely and charming and filled with life and loving dealing with students, and we talked most of Shabbos and I remember she sat there while I gave a kumsitz with some other guy named Effie Buchwald and I remember she stayed till Sunday morning and I walked her to car after the Shabbaton and I didn’t have the nerve to ask her out- because she was- and then she asked "Are you going to YU Seminar at the end of the summer, at Camp Morasha?" and I said "Well, I wasn't planning on it" and she said "Do you want to go?" I said, "Will you be there?" and she said "Yeah" so she left and I moped around for three days and thought made jackass of myself, all the other guys liked her and she was the most popular and I was kind of a shy guy but after moping around for three days I said, "What do I have to lose?" and so I had the nerve to come to Yeshiva University to the fourth floor which was something called the Community Service Division which ran these Torah Leadership Seminars and the acting director was someone named Joel Paul who is now an Executive SURGE fellow and I remember screwing up my courage and said “Excuse me, do you have any positions available for advisor at summer Torah Leaderhip Seminar?” And he looked at me and said “No.” I was walking out and he said “Well, wait a minute, do you do anything?” So I said "I beg your pardon?" So he said, “Well, do you do anything, do you have any talent?” Well, I said "I play the accordion." So he looked at me and he said “Sing for me” so I said "I beg your pardon" and he said "Sing for me!" and I remember I sang “Torah Tora Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe” (laughter) - that was the hit song in 1971 (laughter) and he said, "You know what, I'll take a chance on you- why don't you come as an advisor and be the backup music person?" So I said "Great!" so I went up for that summer and was as nervous as could be because here were all these real people and I was the outsider and I remember going up in the advisors bus to Morasha, but the girl wasn’t there- remember getting off the bus at Morasha; there was the canteen, and there at the corner walking toward me was this woman. And if you remember the song “Killing Me Softly”- and then she looked right through me as though I weren’t there- no clue who I was- so went up to girl and said "Hi, we’ve met before, are you here for Seminar?" She said sorry, tough summer and she said "I'm going home" and she left and there I was and my life was defined because I was on seminar, I was accepted by all these people; I saw the unbelievable power of being able to help shape the environment where the Ribbono Shel Olam ____ and to find my wife- we were married 34 years last Sunday (clapping)

I asked her in May in 1971 and she met me in October. How did she meet me? After that seminar. I was approached by the leadership; they had recognizing there was another group missing some passion in their community and that was the students of Yeshiva high schools, and therefore YU was starting a program called "Yeshiva High School Seminar" and that was for Yeshiva High School students- and they had selected full staff but they didn't have a head advisor because in those days the head advisor was Rabbi Frank Buchwald and he was a teacher at Ramaz and they couldn't have a teacher at one of the participating schools and I was this new guy who just knew how to play the accordion and I wasn't even that good at it so they asked me if I wanted to be head advisor and I was like, thrilled, I was like and I was scared and said sure. So came to advisor meeting in October and was introduced to my girl staff advisor and that was Esther Ribner and it was that person- so don’t think that there's not hashgacha pratis. If you want hashgacha pratis.. I am President of Yeshiva Univeristy! If there’s not a God who does not have a sense of humor…(laughter)

This should be working for you- this experience is supposed to have meaning for you- you're supposed to benefit from this, you're supposed to find the context for your life in doing this work- don’t listen when people tell you this isn’t for you. This is absolutely for you- it is absolutely for you and not just to find your best friend for whom you will spend your lie- but don’t be idiots; of course you’re supposed to meet each other in these contexts-because you're people who share common passions and worldviews and you must- this is supposed to be FOR you; it just can’t be about you. It just can’t be about you. We’re living in narcissistic times- we’re all affected by it – it’s not about you. It’s about building kelal yisrael, because you see, Rabbi Burg said we are only 10% of the Jewish people and what we are going to do to be 20%? I'll tell you what is probably going to happen to make us 20%. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and thousands of our brothers and sisters are going to disappear. Are going to disappear. And that's no victory. Unless we continue to joyously sing the song of God. You know the wonderful- You use this in all your kumsitzes- wonderful quote from prophet Amos- send forth famine in land, not hunger for bread, not thirst for water, but a yearning to hear the music of God. We are in such a time. We are in such a time and don’t be so arrogant as to think that what we have to do is turn to the rest of the Jewish people and make them frum. We have to allow them to hear music of God and believe that our work will not finished by us or by brothers and sisters as long as more of brothers and sisters know people/ story that they are a part of. And how do we do that? I used to give speeches at Hillel saying that our challenge in the work that we did on campus was to get young people to know their story and to OWN their story, to do both. I used to talk about Jewish wow moments- I used to raise a lot of eyebrows- people brought in as Jews have their Wow moments- their wow moment when first time in Israel, first time stood and looked at Har Habayit, at youth group and went on first Shabbaton and they listened to someone at a kumsitz and all of a sudden that person at kumsitz spoke right into their heart or they were at Camp Ramah and had their first sexual experience in a Jewish context (and that was when they left) but the Jewish wow moment (laughter)..you didn’t expect me to give you a packed speech; you came to the wrong place- the Jewish wow moment. My best mission statement was that the goal of Hillel was to maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews- when they left campus, if Jews feel that this Jewish stuff is valuable to me then we win! We win! So you have to find ways...and I don’t even like to term it informal education but experiential education- we have to find ways so that young people are curious enough to say what is this story that’s mine? How did I get to be me as part of we? Because I think they're hungry. I don’t think they are reveling in their individualism- Profound existential loneliness among young people. Go to all of our high schools and look at our passionless 11th graders- not alone, not alone because of you and not alone because of you- and that’s what we get to convey- and that’s why all of them should come continue at YU whether at Mechinah or Normative program- we need- according to this, to meet their best friends at Camp Morasha- need if our world is going to go on- world is so hungry for music of Torah.

And it’s for you to build I- thou relationships- if we start looking at these young people as objects so you get a notch in your belt that you made them frum- PLEASE go work for another people. I know there are many who think that’s what we do- I think that’s bogus. I believe that we SHARE our story. I believe that we invite them…

Har by Avraham, Sadeh by Yitzchak, Bayit by Yaakov and that’s what stuck- Bayit because it’s our home, it’s where we dwell- I once asked at a GA- Rabbi Steinsaltz- asked him question of what we do at time of assimilation to get hamon am to be more involved and he looked and smiled and said “Don’t worry- pintele yid so he’ll come home”- so it was my job to be provocative so said that works if you’re thinking Olam Haba but what about now, not a good enough answer, what’s a better answer-so he said “Let them taste it and they’ll see that it’s good.”

I think it’s that hard and I think it’s that easy- and how do you define success? If you create that sense of passion- to have them want to know more of the story or to know more of the story- and if not instant and if they don’t all come to YU, still a success. Old enough to meet children of people at Seminar with me- some wearing bekishes and streimels- one guy once drove up on his motorcycle and said remember me? “Yeah Mitch, I remember you”- so he said “You know what, I’m not religious but 3 kids in dayschool”

We won. We won in so many different ways- invite someone to your home, see openness, see vitality, not counterintuitive at all- they’re lonely, they know it’s a confusing world and they want to matter. Certainly hope we encourage young people to keep growing- challenge them to know the story ad own the story- and of course I believe that’s why I’m working- most important age where they’re now coming to quote “define themselves in the world” – I think this offers an opportunity both to those who “mi she’ain yodeah l’shol” and chacham and tam as well- here’s a place where tzivos hashem happens (with apologies to Dr. Berger) – and never despair- the numbers are scary. But you know from the beginning God said when nation would be like stars –meforshim say didn’t mean numbers of the stars but how brightly they shone. IN darkness of world today,

End with famous quote from the Rav- central figure in Jewish history not king, field marshal but very old teacher surrounded by very young children. And what does the teacher do? He tells a story. Shkoyach.

Rabbi Solomont:

I’d like to thank Rabbi Schacter, Rabbi…


PRES JOEL: Any hard questions, any easy questions

Yes sir- you graduated yet?

QUESTION: My name is Mike Ackerman. I actually have a question targeted to Rabbi Burg- specifically a problem I found for years in NCSY is follow up necessity after 12th grade- obviously goal to send children to Israel, to Israel programs because once in yeshivas and seminaries- but for a lot of the people who do not, choose to not go to Israel or parents don’t allow it, rare minority that doesn’t come to YU…seen so many people fall out of the radar…understand YU is not the UN…well, not the Gestapo and can’t run the world (laughter) How can we really keep a connection with these people because they can breathe from Shabbaton to Shabbaton with their advisors- but once out in the open, that’s when they really sink- what’s the plan?

RABBI BURG: That is our major issue- don’t think we’ve done a good job in 52 years of handling our alumni, positive and negative- zeroing in on 13- 17 and we do it very well. And one of the things we don’t do is post high school- the ones we get are great and the ones we don’t we don’t. and that’s unacceptable on Jewish community level. Hired Rabbi Dave ___ to run NCSY alumni (clapping) he’s not here, you don’t have to clap- I’ll tell him though- somewhere around 50 to 60,000 people in college somewhere- big issue in terms of JSU also- 210 clubs of JSU- majority of them don’t become Orthodox- so try to create relationships with Hillels- win is to get them to choose school with very strong Hillel so can go out and do something Jewish- counsel teens into going to place- LA- switch from going to Berkeley to UCLA for us that was huge – working very hard- Rabbi Glasser’s office- working to put together a database- working to track the kids and do it in a much, much better way- 52 years in NCSY, don’t have any lists of 42 years before I got there- comes from outgrowth because in 70s run by 20 year olds and then more professional in 80s, over 200 full time/ part time staff, we’re huge, nothing else in orthodeox Jewish community that has that kind of scope…right now playing catch up….

PRES JOEL: Also a gaivah- god didn’t create world of sun, heaven and moons of NCSY- your unfinished work is to take students of critical teen years and find as many as you can and have meaningful interactions with them so do taste and know what’s there- as advisors going to have deep relationships with everyone you meet- nonsense- going to try to connect best you can- NCSY not going to take over the world- but you know what, they go on, people go on, don’t identify themselves as being lifetime NCSYer (Mordechai raises his hand and is sad here) that’s not the answer either…most important thing you can do is direct them to go to campus with some kind of orthodox community on it/ lots of Jewish life. as much as you are able be in touch so that you are in touch with them- if lose touch with them doesn’t mean that the touch you had with them went away..they’ve been touched.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Dovid. NCSYaholic (rabbi dude claps) I wanted to get feedback from both of you on following- each of us here probably ought to be another three of us here- even though realize dedicating ourselves and giving of our time we are compromising on our own personal goals to some extent- my own mind, kind of thinking that impact NCSY makes is totally based on dedication advisors put into it- more than professional staff, fulltime staff- what would you recommend in terms of getting those few others and broadening our impact?

RABBI BURG: Okay David. (pause) I went to NCSY kollel I think about two summers ago and sat down advisors and said why aren’t you guys doing NCSY? They said well it’s coed, but that’s not the real reason, then said not enough Torah. We said if you came, don’t you think there’d be more Torah? So fast forward- created program in Teaneck which is learning- call it Kollel- learning program, Rabbi Sobolofsky gave inaugural shiur- like for you guys to come- not one of them showed up. That for me was a little painful. Dovid, to answer your question; I wish this room were packed- very thankful for anything anyone does on any level- glad that these guys do the summer kollel!- some people have hashkafic issues- I would say to them I don’t care what you do, just do something- don’t care if high school, college- there’s this Holocuast out there (some people don’t like this term) of people assimilating and intermarrying- issue of who is a Jew at Federation- everyone fighting in 80s who is a Jew- then in 90s realized while everyone is fighting- all the Jews walked out the door.

Is there something in your heart that is bothered by the fact that these Jews are walking out the door? As advisors you should spread the word- number one you should tell your stories- older people in Omaha this past Shabbos telling about their kids- also don’t be on the defensive- oh, you do Shabbatons- I tell this to people all the time- the question is not why are you doing but why are they NOT going to the Shabbaton- look- how can anyone sleep at night when Jews are intermarrying? I just- I don’t get it. And maybe because I’m an NCSY Junkie like you are, David (16 years) – I think you need to make that point- not that they have to be there in this room but I thin they should be somewhere doing something.

Pres JOEL: Yeah. (laughter) ___ years ago when I was recruiting, used to do these Torah Leadership seminars, 40 or 50 advisors, got 120 applications- would interview applicants- real thing about whether accepted or not- some of the best or brightest advisors would be struggling all the time about whether they could take the time away from shiur- they would approach the Rav- if expecting to get what Rav really said from me, well- Rav gave them a hard time- he said they need to invest in themselves, need to learn enough and get enough to give for a lifetime- but also said I understand you get something out of what you’re doing and you’re benefiting too so said you’re going to have to struggle with this. And that’s what this is, a struggle. Everyone’s not good at being an NCSY advisor. I think Rabbi Burg said something critically important- we have to develop culture of caring, culture of awareness, religious personality in all our students so that they don’t think the house is burning down- know they are part of a home and there is a Knesset Yisrael- and in their daily interactions they are supposed to matter and not judge- because chas vshalom God should judge us the way we judge everyone around us- important view isn’t how do you shlep people into being advisors for NCSY- gift you can give them- they can own the gift of caring, use this stupid alliteration of ennobling and enabling- think there is something ennobling about being a human. “What do you want from me, I’m only human?” Being only human is Christian- fallen creatures, steeped in original sin- only way to do that is to accept Oso Ha’Ish into our lives because died on cross so we can achieve grace- guess what, that’s not us- we believe that we are Tzelem Elokim- little lower than the angels- we are not “only human”- we are the culmination of creation- we need to develop cultures among us where constantly remind ourselves that we aspire to that humanity- for some involved in NCSY, for some Torah Tour, for some chavrusah with Mechinah guy, for others it will be let me just not judge so much- look choices are impossible- we did this during time of night seder- but any time except from 3 to 6 in the morning we would be interrupting something- I’m sure there are those of us in this room who go to Night Seder- some of you are men (laughter- that was beautiful) new Beit Midrash in Stern. In our excitement let’s not be judgmental too-people trying to find way in world and it’s hard.

3 last questions…

PRES JOEL: How about we ask questions and not give answers?

GUY: Can I ask 2 questions? Is the accordion the secret to meeting and attracting my significant other?

PRES JOEL: Depends on whether she is tone deaf or not…I think for me the accordion was a protection that allowed me to hide behind it and be myself because I was shy- even today if you put me in room and don’t give me a mission then I’ll stand in corner and be shy- but if give me a mission I’ll put on a smile and go on- some of us do it through bravado, shadchanim, I think most important way is to find a way where you get to be you- going into settings with other people who have similar commitments- could hide behind this- could tell stories and people could see into my soul- hope you too find your accordion, but a little more lyrical than the way I play it.

GUY: It wasn’t meant to be a serious question.

PRESIDENT JOEL: I’m trying to save your ____ because every woman in this room looked at you and said “What a dork.”

(laughing and clapping)

GUY: What happens when NCSYers say- I don’t care- I am Jewish but don’t care?

PRES JOEL: Rangers game…build relationships – most of them are prequestioning- have to see that you’re not trying to change them into you but there are some great wow experiences you’d like to share with them- if all it is at the end of the day is that they knew an Orthodox guy who was really cool who cared about them you have no idea how those sees are going to blossom.

Rabbi Solomont: Like to thank everyone…have some things for you to take with you…recognize that you probably don’t sleep during the week…very difficult to sleep… but on your way to Shabbatonim want you to be asleep so you can be rested so got you these special neck pillows.

PRES JOEL: YU’s on the right; NCSY is on the left (on the neck pillow)


G said...

"YU’s on the right; NCSY is on the left"

Now THERE'S a new point of view :)

Ezzie said...

lol see, I thought that but didn't say it. :)

Neil Harris said...

Thanks for posting this. Very informative. Rabbi Schacter's comments about individualism were on the money.

Anonymous said...

its great that these shtark yu guys wanna "do kiruv" in a fun social setting. how about they start being friendly to their 'bummy' classmates at yu?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of YU Dinner, why not you?
A while back I wanted to invite for Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Since you are not the easiest person in the world to reach, all I can really do is wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving with whoever you will be spending it with.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. I was at Berkeley. We had a whole bunch of semi-observant students--enough to get a crowd of 150 for Friday night dinners, Orthodox services overflowing into the hallways, a mashgiach supervising the Passover meal plan, campus dining services starting to work on a kosher meal plan, a whole lot of students showing up to the local synagogues...and then within a couple of years, there were almost no new semi-observant students arriving on campus. I couldn't figure it out. Then I read this

"win is to get them to choose school with very strong Hillel so can go out and do something Jewish- counsel teens into going to place- LA- switch from going to Berkeley to UCLA for us that was huge"

So NCSY intentionally cut off the observant community at Berkeley. I, for one, think that was a big loss.