​​​THREE HUNDRED JEWISH TEENS CHOOSE TO SPEND WINTER BREAK LEARNING WITH NCSY




 








By NATAN COHEN

While many of their peers spent winter break at exotic beaches and ski resorts, 300 Jewish teens from the U.S, Canada and Mexico attended a five-day retreat devoted to Torah study and religious growth run by NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union (OU).

Aspire: NCSY’s Yarchei Kallah is a premier annual Torah learning experience for public school students in 9th through 12th grades. This year’s Yarchei Kallah in Stamford, Connecticut, included all the exhilarating components that NCSY weekends are renowned for — spirited singing, dancing and Shabbat onegs; captivating speakers and immersive Torah sessions; and opportunities to cultivate lifelong relationships with peers, advisors and educators.

“I chose to spend my break at Yarchei Kallah because it’s amazing to see so many teens from all different parts of the world coming together to learn Torah and hang out with their friends,” a 12th grader at Westfield High School in New Jersey, who attended the retreat in 2022, Kaily Caicedo said. “Yarchei Kallah enables me to connect with Jewish teens. I don’t often get that chance since I attend public school and don’t live in a very Jewish community. I get to talk to kids about Hashem and what Judaism means to us. It’s so inspiring to connect with teens my age on such a deep level. Seeing how many teens are on my same page really helped me to connect with my Judaism as well.”

NCSY Director of Innovation and Strategic Expansion Rabbi Jacob Bernstein says, “Yarchei Kallah is designed to deepen a teen’s connection to Torah and Judaism, strengthen their Jewish pride, and cultivate new friends for life.” Bernstein is also NCSY Summer Director of Next Step Israel Internships and co-directed this year’s event with Associate Regional Director of Central East NCSY and author Rabbi Menachem Tenenbaum.

The retreat also serves as both a regional and international reunion where participants experience the power and fun of NCSY on a larger scale, and take their Jewish practice to the next level.

Naomi Davis is in 11th grade at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) and participated in Yarchei Kallah for the first time in 2022.

“After attending last year, I knew that I had to come back this winter,” she said. “There is no other way I would have liked to spend my break. I gained so much inspiration through learning, more pride in being Jewish, the feeling of unity and that I matter, and I gained so many new connections and relationships with old and new friends and advisors.”

Teens largely learn about Yarchei Kallah via their Jewish Student Union (JSU), NCSY’s network of public high school Jewish clubs, as well as their regional NCSY branches. About one third of this year’s participants have attended a previous NCSY summer program, like TJJ (The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey). Other attendees included NCSY alumni who are currently in college and 10 students who sit on NCSY’s National Board (NABO).

Participants convened at the Stamford Hilton on December 27 for five days of Torah study and workshops centered on The Power of One and an exploration of the Shema prayer.

“The theme of unity was particularly significant in light of the events on October 7,” Rabbi Bernstein said. “We emphasized the idea of being part of one nation and one people. We studied each paragraph in Shema, which centers on Hashem’s oneness and our unique relationship with Him. Simultaneously, we also focused on the potential of one person to make a difference through one action, one mitzvah.”

Featured presenters included Rabbi Ari Bensoussan, Rabbi YY Jacobson, YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, Congregation Tiferes Yisroel’s Rabbi Menachem Goldberger of Baltimore, United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and NCSY alumnus Yoni Goldstein, Huntington National Bank Chairman Gary Torgow, and NCSY Director of Education and 18Forty podcast host Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin.

Senior educators from NCSY, Yeshiva University, Touro University and Israeli yeshivas and seminaries led a number of compelling sessions, and senior teens learned about inspiring gap year programs at an engaging fair.

A special program called “Holy Chutzpah: The Audacity to Believe My Individual Actions Can Make a Real Difference”, encouraged teens — in light of the situation in Israel — to take on a new mitzvah in the hopes of making a difference as part of the larger nation of Am Yisrael.

Participants were grouped into chaburahs during the day, and had the option of furthering their studies at a fun evening Mishmar program.

“At the chaburahs, we could ask and say anything about how we feel,” says Caicedo. “It was such a comfortable group and there was always someone there to respond, who also assured us that our questions and feelings are okay and that everyone is at a different level of commitment.”

Rabbi Tenebaum reflects that while Yarchei Kallah had so many incredible highlights, his inspiration comes from one thing, year after year: “One night I sat down to learn with a teen in a room full of other teens who opted to learn Torah. I find their passion and eagerness so absolutely moving.”

Among the most memorable events was “The Power of One Fair”, where teens chose from a variety of meaningful activities including challah baking, decorating shoes for Israeli teens, packing spices for a mobile food pantry, and challenging national table tennis athlete Estee Ackerman to a game of ping pong, after hearing her remarkable story of faith in the face of religious discrimination.

An inspiring musical and dance-filled havdalah ceremony led by NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland was followed by a soulful kumzitz led by Rabbi Daniel Kalish and the Mesivta of Waterbury. The night continued with an exciting game night including arcades, virtual reality, a photo booth, and deejay.

Perhaps the most powerful event was “A Night of Solidarity and Inspiration With Our Brothers and Sisters In Israel,” featuring video reflections and songs performed live by Shulem Lemmer, and a siyum dedicated to the October 7 victims and captives. More than 500 people participated, including 100 yeshiva day school teens from New York and New Jersey, and 50 NCSY Shevet Glaubach Fellows, who joined Yarchei Kallah participants and staff.

“All the teens were randomly grouped together and each group studied an Aliyah from Parshat Bereishit all the way until Parashat Vayechi,” says Rabbi Bernstein. “In 10 minutes, we completed the entire Sefer Bereishit and we made a siyum on behalf of everyone who never had the chance to say, ‘Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek’. It was so powerful.”

Beyond the wonderful memories, new friends, and a new weekly chaburah which adds to the existing three she has with NCSY advisors, Davis left the retreat feeling strengthened in her Jewish practice and commitment.

“On Yarchei Kallah, I felt like I could truly be myself,” she says. “I felt loved, and I felt unity. It was so special to be surrounded by Jewish teens from public schools from all over the US and other countries. I go to a public school and have really felt distant and alone at times, especially after October 7. But after attending Yarchei Kallah I gained so much confidence and pride.”

For Caceido, the retreat was equally memorable and impactful.

“Yarchei Kallah brought me into a warm family and helped me to understand what it means to be a Jew,” she said. “Today I’m still in contact with friends and advisors whom I met last year, and I know that they have my back. It’s an amazing community and I’m so grateful to be part of it.”


PERES CENTER FOR PEACE AND INNOVATION AND ZAKA TEL AVIV INAUGURATE NOLVA AMBULANCE IN SOLEMN TRIBUTE TO FESTIVAL VICTIMS


TEL AVIV -- In a poignant commemoration event held today at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, ZAKA Tel Aviv volunteers united with families of the Nova music festival victims to innaugurate a new ambulance named NOVA in memory of the 364 people killed at the festival on October 7.
 
The joint initiative of the Peres Center and ZAKA stands as a powerful symbol of resilience and unity, fostering a spirit of healing and collaboration in the face of tragedy. The ceremony included representatives of the 'Children of the Light' association supporting the families of the victims, bereaved families, and members of the Nova community.

Chemi Peres, Chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation said, "In my worst dreams, I never imagined such a gathering at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. This is a very moving meeting between the families of the murdered and the members of Zaka Tel Aviv who did holy work in the most difficult moments. My father used to say that there are no desperate situations but only desperate people, and I am hopeful that we will all take these moments to continue building the country to new heights. We will not give up on life and hope, and from the terrible grief, we will emerge stronger and more united."




YAD SARAH'S SOLIDER REHAB PROGRAM SUPPORTS WOUNDED IDF SOLDIERS













“I will never forget the moment when we came home from the hospital after Yahali was born, and again when he was reborn after he was wounded,” Hadas Barzilai, the mother of Yahali Barzilai, a 13th Battalion Golani soldier injured in combat said. “Back then, we brought him a highchair. Now, we brought a wheelchair from Yad Sarah,” she continued. “And the excitement of seeing his first steps this time was even more inspiring.”

To support soldiers impacted by the Israel-Hamas war, Yad Sarah has established the Solider Rehabilitation program. The service works directly with the IDF to provide medical equipment and support to help wounded soldiers recover and rehabilitate at home.

Young American Volunteers Support Israel During Challenging Times

During times of need, volunteers from around the world are stepping up to support Yad Sarah.

Last month, Yad Sarah proudly welcomed a group of 18 young Americans, who came to volunteer for two weeks through Birthright’s Onward Israel program. During their holiday break, the generous young adults assisted with medical equipment repairs, home hospital unit installations, and much more.

“We are proud to partner with Yad Sarah to provide US volunteers an opportunity to take part in direct relief and aid efforts for the people of Israel when they need it the most,” Birthright Israel Onward VP Ilan Wagner said.


OU KOSHER’S NEWLY EXPANDED COMMUNITY PROGRAMS EDUCATE KOSHER CONSUMERS NATIONWIDE


From food and restaurants to hotels and simcha venues, North American kosher consumers have an array of products and establishments at their disposal. While it’s exciting to see the OU symbol on products such as Oreos, Entenmann's, Green Mountain Coffee and Fruity Cheerios, it’s rare to consider the behind-the-scenes efforts devoted to kashrus certification.

OU Kosher, the world’s largest and most widely recognized international kosher certification agency, is on a mission to make consumers more aware of the inner workings of the kashrus certification process through its expanded Kashrus Across America program, an ASK (Advanced Seminars in Kashrus) OU educational program initiative.

“As American entrepreneur and philanthropist Sy Syms used to say, ‘an educated consumer is our best customer,’” says OU Kosher Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Moshe Elefant.

OU Kosher Managing Director of Community Relations Rabbi Eli Eleff explains, “People are better equipped at keeping kosher once they are aware of what they need to know about it and understand the work involved in kosher certification. Consumers see kosher products on the shelves, but they don’t know what it takes to get them there.”

OU Kosher certifies over one million products manufactured in 13,000 plants in 105 countries. The organization certifies two-thirds of all kosher food in the United States. For over 30 years, OU Kosher has delivered educational programming to community shuls and organizations across North America, including Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York, Montreal and Toronto.

“As the OU, our responsibility is not just to give hashgacha, but also to promote kashrus knowledge so that people understand what the standards and halachos are, and what we do,” says OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack, who launched ASK OU all those decades ago.

Then run by OU Kosher Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Kosher Education Department Director Rabbi Yosef Grossman z”l, the program was initially marketed to rabbanim and men learning in kollel. It centered on shiurim and visits to manufacturing plants and restaurants where program participants could observe kosher certification’s practical implementation.

“About 50 people would attend at a time, and we never had enough room,” recalls Rabbi Genack. If you didn’t sign up early, you didn’t get a spot. Today, Rabbi Eleff has done a wonderful job of expanding the program by bringing it to many different cities and communities.”

In building upon its comprehensive services, ASK OU offers engaging presentations, seminars and workshops to yeshivas, girls’ schools, Jewish day schools and universities, while continuing its collaboration with shuls, kollels, and nonprofits like local kashrus councils.

Partnering with other organizations, says Rabbi Eleff, enables everyone to share perspectives and learn from one another.

“Our goal is to serve consumers across North America by providing them with resources, knowledge and skills, and making kashrus relevant and tangible to as many people as possible,” he says.

Rabbi Eleff notes that communities’ needs and interests around kashrus education vary across regions. The program’s versatility enables each community to select topics from a sample list, or suggest its own. Popular sessions include Kosher 101, Red-Flag Ingredients, Kosher Wine Production, Kashering, Preparing for Pesach, Checking for Insects, Kosher Birds of the Wild, Kashrus of Fish and Alcoholic Beverages.

In December, ASK OU presented two fascinating programs in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The LA program, which attracted 100 participants, was hosted by the Valley Village Community Kollel and Congregation Bais Tefillah and featured OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator and Director of Food Services Rabbi Dov Schreier.

Rabbi Schreier’s presentation, The ABC’s of Eating Out: Everything You Need to Know About Eating Out at a Restaurant, Event or on the Road, explored the intricacies and halachos of kashrus as they apply to eating outside of the home. Rabbi Eleff followed with a lively Q&A session.

The Philadelphia event, Beyond the Grapevine: A Journey Into Kosher Wine, Its Production and Relevant Halachos, was hosted at Congregation Ahavas Torah by Kollel Mechanchim of Northeast Philadelphia in conjunction with OU Kosher. Participants also included two other kollels; the Northeast Philadelphia Community Kollel and the Philadelphia Community Kollel of Lower Merion. OU Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and wine department head Rabbi Nochum Rabinowitz presented on the practical considerations and basic halachos of kosher wine creation. OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator and Safra D’dayna Rabbi Eli Gersten then gave a shiur on the more complicated halachos and brachos related to grapes and wine.

Most recently, ASK OU’s Milwaukee program, An Evening of Kashrus Inspiration, was a tremendous hit among participants. At a packed Congregation Beth Jehudah (CBJ), attendees learned about bedikas tolayim (checking for insect infestation) from OU Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Daniel Sharratt and Rabbi Eleff. The rabbis also presented Kosher 101 and insect infestation sessions at select local schools.

Rabbi Yosef Schlussel, an assistant to CBJ’s Rabbi Michael Twerski and Halacha teacher at Torah Academy of Milwaukee (TAM), was inspired by what he learned from the program.

“The presentations were overwhelmingly received with great enthusiasm,” he says. “They were clear, interesting and informative. Knowing about kashrus just by seeing a kashrus symbol, versus learning about the background and intricacies of what goes into the process, is much different and enhances our appreciation. Learning the practicality of checking for insects and gaining insight into what constitutes a chumra, what is necessary, and what amounts to misinformation, was great. We thank Rabbis Eleff and Sharratt for their time and expertise and we are indebted to the OU for making such a great program available.”

Tzvi Aryeh Markowitz, a senior at the Harri Hoffmann Family High School of Yeshivas Ohr Yechezkel/Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study (WITS), came away with valuable lessons from ASK OU’s presentation at his yeshiva.

“I’ve heard presentations from the OU before and they are always very informative and engaging,” he says. “This time was no different, especially with the humorous stories and breadth of knowledge. In particular, I was unaware of the need to confirm that a Slurpee or similar drink actually contains the alleged contents. I also enjoyed learning about some of the likely problems with commercial kashrus that necessitate competent mashgichim.”

According to Rabbi Elefant, the large-scale attendance of ASK OU programs coupled with participants’ overwhelmingly positive feedback highlight the need for this kind of programming in both large and small communities.

“From students to teachers to rabbanim to balabatim, participants have expressed their tremendous appreciation for ASK OU. The lessons we teach resonate with the audience; they realize how important kosher is to our Jewish lifestyle and become motivated to observe kashrus to the highest standards of halacha. We want to teach anyone who is interested in learning about kosher.”

Rabbi Eleff says the biggest misconception about OU Kosher is the belief that the certification process is seamless. Part of OU Kosher’s efforts are to add a human element to the kashrus process.

“We want people to know that we're here for them. We have full-time rabbanim answering emails and our hotline, who have been hired to take care of the klal’s needs. We want people to be connected with both kashrus and the OU and to reach out to us. We are here to answer their questions at length, whether over the phone, via our programming or sending a scholar in residence to their community over Shabbos. Our hotlines are a free community service and many of the programs are highly subsidized by the OU.”

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HUNDREDS OF MEMBERS OF INDIA’S “LOST TRIBE” OF BNEI MENASHE ASKING TO MAKE ALIYAH AND JOIN THE IDF











By SARA LIBMAN

MIZORAM, India -- Hundreds of members of the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India, who descend from a “lost tribe” of Israel, gathered yesterday in Aizawl, in the Indian state of Mizoram, to show their support and solidarity with the state of Israel as it marks 100 days since the war in Gaza began.

During the gathering they marched in the streets of the city, waved Israeli flags and called on the government of Israel to allow them to make Aliyah (immigration to Israel) immediately so they could join the IDF and fight alongside other Israeli soldiers whom they call “our brothers and sisters”.

According to Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization lobbying for 20-plus years for the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe, 75 members of the Bnei Menashe who made Aliyah from northeastern India in recent years are on active duty and currently serving as soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fighting against Hamas and Hezbollah. Additional 140 members were called up for reserve duty.

Of Bnei Menashe immigrants of military age, nearly all men (99%) and 10% of women join the IDF, with 90% of females performing sherut leumi, national service due to religious reasons, the organization said.

"The Bnei Menashe are dedicated Zionists and passionate about the State of Israel, its people and their security. It is no coincidence that so many of them serve in combat units in the IDF, and we are proud of their willingness to risk their lives alongside other Israeli soldiers to defend the Land and people of Israel,” said Shavei Israel’s founder and chairman, Michael Freund.

“Since the war broke out, Shavei Israel has receives hundreds of requests from young community members in northeastern India asking to make Aliyah immediately,” Michael Freund said. “Not only that – they are asking to join the IDF immediately to fight shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters.”

The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Shabbat, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. Down through the generations, they nourished the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.


UNIQUE "UNITY SHABBAT" IN JERUSALEM: ULTRA-ORTHODOX SHOW SUPPORT WITH FULL SHABBAT EXPERIENCE WITH SECULAR HOSTIAGE FAMILIES

Cont'd from Home Page


This past Shabbat a unique and remarkable show of unity took place - quietly - in Jerusalem.

36 Hostage families committed to a full Shabbat experience in Jerusalem together with Ultra-Orthodox "Kesher Yehudi" participants.

Even if this isn't your regular beat, and even if you think won't want to cover the story, I suggest you read it and take a look at the photos, for yourself. While I am involved with many, many news items, I just want to add personally that it was a singular and powerful experience to be there.

Let me know if you would like me to connect you to any of the participants. As written, more photos, videos and information are available.


PROFESSOR ISAAC BEN-ISRAEL FROM

TAU TO RECEIVE THE DISGINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD OF THE IAF, THE FIRST ISRAELI TO WIN THE AWARD


TEL AVIV, Israel -- The International Astronautical Federation (IAF) has announced that it will award the Distinguished Service Award to Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, Head of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University and former chairman of the Israel Space Agency, for his “outstanding contribution to astronautics (space sciences)” in general and “to the advancement of the International Astronautical Federation” in particular.  Professor Ben Israel is the first Israeli to receive this honor.


"This is a general award, similar to a lifetime achievement award, which is awarded every year “, explains Prof. Ben-Israel.  “I was the Chairman of the Israel Space Agency for 17 years, from 2005 to 2022. And before that I was the Head of MAFAT - the Defense R&D Directorate responsible for the development of space for defense. So, space isn't something I've just come across by chance recently. Still, it's nice to be recognized.”

Professor Ben-Israel is one of the key figures in the fields of space and cyber in Israel. While serving in the Israel Air Force Prof. Ben-Israel studied mathematics, physics and philosophy, earning a doctorate from Tel Aviv University. He held a long series of positions in the Air Force and the General Staff and headed the Directorate for Defense Research and Development and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) in the Israeli Ministry of Defense. For his contribution to building the technological capacity of the IDF, he was awarded the Israel Defense Prize twice. Upon his retirement from the IDF, he joined the teaching staff of Tel Aviv University. In 2005 he was appointed Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, and in 2007 was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Kadima party. In 2011 he headed the National Cyber Initiative and founded the National Cyber Bureau within the prime minister's office. In 2018, he was appointed (together with Prof. Aviatar Matania from Tel Aviv University) to head the National Initiative for Artificial Intelligence. In the years 2010-2017 he headed the National Council for Research and Development.

Professor Ben-Israel is one of the founders of Israel's civilian space program and the Israeli space industry, among other contributions by strengthening their ties to the world through the International Astronautical Federation. The Federation is the world's most important association for space, and is a voluntary association of space agencies, space industries, research institutes, and universities on the subject. Its members in Israel include the Association for Aerospace Sciences in Israel, the Israel Space Agency, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the Rafael Company. In 2012 Prof. Ben-Israel became a lifetime member of the Federation. "It is a true honor for us to attribute this award to you," the president of the federation wrote to Prof. Ben-Israel, because “you have been for many years an active participant to the success of the Federation.”

The Distinguished Service Award for 2024 will be awarded to Prof. Ben-Israel in a celebratory ceremony that will be held at the Federation's "Spring Meetings" in Paris.


200 OF SURVIVAL:  CENTENARIAN HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS MEET FOR TH$ FIRST TIME


In an emotional meeting, 100-year-old Kindertransport survivor Walter Bingham met 100-year-old Auschwitz survivor Lily Ebert at her London home last week. Bingham was visiting from Israel to speak at the March of the Living UK film premiere: ‘MOTL -  Journey of Hope: Retracing the Kindertransport After 85 Years’: The remarkable story of 3 Kindertransport survivors, Walter Bingham (100), Paul Alexander (88), and George Shefi (92), who retraced their journey last October to mark 85 years since they courageously fled Germany - without their parents - following Kristallnacht.

Walter Bingham, who lives in Jerusalem, is an enduring symbol of resilience. He says: “The past is gone. We mustn’t dwell on it. But if you don’t know the past you can’t make the future any better. We can educate, speak to people, schools. Talking to people about what it means and the consequences of their actions and hope that they will learn from it.”

Referring to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, he said: "I often get asked what the difference is between what happened then and today’s situation in Israel.


There are several differences but for me the most important difference is that the Nazis were hiding what they were doing, they did it all in secret and nobody knew. Today’s terrorists are very proud of what they are doing, and they are showing it. That is a remarkable difference".

Lily Ebert MBE said: "Walter and I are both centenarian Holocaust survivors. We are members of a community that we did not want to be a part of or choose to be a part of - the Holocaust survivor community. We have to live, every day, with the pain of what we went through. We share that understanding, and it is for that reason that meeting the inspirational Walter was so special."

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