Connecticut NCSYers credit a grassroots approach to the youth group’s ongoing success
By Avigayil Halpern
NCSY, formerly the National Council of Synagogue Youth, has had a presence in Connecticut for many years. The Orthodox youth group was founded in 1954, and promotes itself as running “trailblazing Jewish leadership and identity building programs for high school youth.”
This year, the organization is marking its 60th anniversary. NCSY has made an impact on generations of Jewish Nutmeggers; countless members of communities across the state have warm memories of their involvement, both as participants and group leaders.
Rabbi Daniel Loew, outgoing principal of the Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE), first became involved with NCSY as a ninth grader at Hall High School, as he sought “a way to continue to have a Jewish social and educational outlet.”
In addition to assuming leadership roles over the course of his high school career, Loew returned to NCSY as an advisor throughout college. Not only did he want to give back to the organization that had given him so much during high school, he says, “I continued to receive inspiration while I was involved in NCSY in college as well.”
Devora Weinstock of New Haven, who recently completed Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies, credits NCSY with helping her realize that her passion lies in Jewish communal work. Weinstock, who this year served as New England NCSY’s interim regional director, has been involved with New England NCSY “for as long as I can remember.” She credits her family for this; her father was the first president of New Jersey NCSY, and her older brothers had already served as advisors and staff in the New England region.
“New Haven NCSY was a community-supported and run chapter,” Weinstock says. “My parents and my friends’ parents were the reason it existed.”
This community-driven, bottom-up approach to NCSY in Connecticut is one that many participants identify as one of its great strengths. Meira Goldfischer of West Hartford, a rising sophomore at HHNE and a second-generation NCSYer, praises the New England region’s smaller size.
“One of the unique things about New England NCSY is that there aren’t hundreds of kids who belong to it,” she says. “That results in a more home-like environment, and it truly makes me feel like I’m with my family while at events.”
Noah Marlowe, a 2014 graduate of Ramaz in New York and a resident of Stamford, agrees. Responding to a question about what makes his region of NCSY unique, he says, “We are among the smallest of NCSY regions, and therefore operate in a family structure.”
The grassroots nature of NCSY in Connecticut is what many are most concerned about losing. Both Loew and Marlowe expressed concern about the “professionalization” of NCSY and a loss of student leadership.
Nonetheless, confidence in the future of the organization is unanimous. As Weinstock summed it up, NCSY will continue to provide teens with “role models who inspire…and a passionate spiritual connection to Judaism.”