Can an international organization draw public school teenagers to a weeklong event that spans over their winter break and see them sorry to leave at the end of the week? If that organization is NCSY then it can.
On December 28, 2010, 200 Jewish teenagers from all over the United States and Canada joined together in Stamford, Connecticut to learn Torah during their winter break. I chose to attend National Yarchei Kallah 2010 to be inspired, make new friends nation-wide, and reunite with other teenagers from my trip to Israel with TJJ Ambassadors (whom I had met this past summer). To my delight, all three of my objectives were accomplished by the beginning of the New Year.
Many of my friends from school exchanged departing words before our winter break, like, “Where are you going for break? I’m going to Cancun/Jamaica/Florida.” I said that I was going to Stamford, Connecticut for a week of inspiration and Jewish learning. As my bus pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, and my friends ran outside to greet me, I instantly knew that I had chosen the best option for spending my winter break. After the first shiur klali, general lecture, I found myself engaged in an analytical discussion with said friends about the content of the class. I was already gaining spiritually from Yarchei Kallah, and I had not even been there for one day! From New York to Los Angeles (and everywhere in between), high school students varying in religious observance and background in Judaism all gained inspiration with peers previously known or newly-befriended.
Staying in the luxurious Stamford Hilton, I joined in a discussion between a teen from New Jersey and Rabbi Yitz Levi of Philadelphia, PA, discussing the validity of Jewish Orthodoxy’s emphasis of the importance of shomer negi’ah and its affect on our lives. Not only was the discussion engaging and captivating, but also it was conducive to the inclusion of those passing by, allowing for opinions varying greatly from one another to be presented. Each person’s opinion was respected and valued, leaving no one feeling that his point was not heard. Interestingly, this talk took place in a hallway, drawing-in vagabond, nocturnal NCSYers at two o’clock in the morning to add their two cents on the matter. At the end of this makeshift shiur, everyone left satisfied with the information he had shared and received from one another.
In our smaller chaburot of five teens, led by an advisor, we discussed excerpts from Torah and our analyses thereof. We were encouraged to challenge, infer, object against, and disagree with one another in the pursuit of furthering our comprehension of the texts and the almost endless ways to interpret each and every sentence in it.
From New York to Los Angeles (and everywhere in between), high school students varying in religious observance and background in Judaism all gained inspiration with peers previously known or newly-befriended. I saw teens in tears during Havdalah, dancing and singing with a shine in their eyes, as their souls were fundamentally touched in a truly beautiful, meaningful, and permanent way that they would never forget. I am grateful to NCSY for the efforts expended in planning and in executing such a wonderful experience, and I realize how fortunate I was to be a part of such a character-building conference. Although we have all returned to our respective homes, it is our responsibility to implement the lessons learned at Yarchei Kallah into our daily lives to keep our flames of Jewish inspiration lit.
Judah Joseph is a Junior at Cherry Hill High School East in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is a regional board member of Atlantic Seaboard NCSY.