By Rochelle Maruch Miller
This year marks a significant milestone as NCSY celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding in 1954.Â
Through the decades, NCSY has become a treasured part of the Jewish community, inspiring hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens to grow in their Judaism, no matter what
background they come from.
In this interview with the 5TJT, Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck, director of OU/NCSY Alumni, discusses the rich impact NCSY has had on North America and specifically on the Five Towns.
RMM: Rabbi Marchuck, please tell us about yourself.
YM: I grew up in Merrick and moved to the Five Towns after I got married and have lived there ever since. Other than the time I spent studying in Israel, Long Island has always been my home.
My teen and collegiate years of education were based in the Five Towns. I am a graduate of HAFTR high school and I studied at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, which I still study at, and I am an active member of the community to this day.
I am married to Deborah (Glick) of L.A. whom I was introduced to during my advisor years in NCSY–http://ncsyalumni.org/met-through-ncsy (the third-to-last line on the page). We have six children: Yaakov Meir (20), Chana (18), Rivka (18), Shaindy (15), Shifra (12), and Sara Leah (8). The four oldest are referred to as “NCSY babies.” That’s when one’s parents work in NCSY and you attend at least 6 to 12 Shabbatonim a year for multiple years, attend countless bowling and pizza events, and have dozens of kids come over for Shabbos. Those early experiences for a child are amazing because they receive unending attention and are somewhat of a “star.”
My professional career has been exclusively in either formal or informal education. Over 13 of those years were spent in NCSY/NCSY Alumni and 11 of those years as the director of student activities at HAFTR Middle School.
RMM: How did you become an integral part of NCSY?
YM: The warmth of the NCSY family/community was something I had never experienced in other venues. It was a safe environment to explore who you aspired to be in regards to a person and a Jew. The quality of the adult leadership was extraordinary–people like Mrs. Chaya Werfel, Rabbi Binyomin Hammer, Rabbi David Beitler, and the regional directors of Long Island NCSY, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky and Rabbi Barry Nathan. Almost all have lived or do live in the Five Towns.
RMM: What are some of the unique features of NCSY?
YM: There is no question that NCSY’s uniqueness comes from the relationships that develop between the collegiate advisors and the high school teens in NCSY. That “big brother/“big sister” relationship is priceless. That terminology fits quite well, because there is a family feel to NCSY. To this day my strongest relationships are with the friends that I “did” NCSY with, whether that is referring to my advisors when I was a participant, the NCSYers in Far Rockaway and Lawrence, or my peers throughout my NCSY experience. For example, one of “my” NCSYers sang under my chuppah. Further, when my daughters went to study in Israel, I told them I am giving them a gift; family in Israel–three families who made aliyah that were my closest friends in NCSY during my teenage years, and yes, my children practically lived in their homes during their time in Israel!
RMM: How has NCSY evolved since you first became a part of it?
YM: NCSY is a movement that is constantly evolving and recreating itself in order to engage the teens of that day. Engaging teens of the 1960s is a different formula than engaging kids a generation later; that is obvious. What may not be as obvious is that how we engage teens is an endless process and reflects the changing world that our kids live in. The need for constant evaluation is a reflection of the time we are living in. I often hear from NCSY alumni from previous generations that, “When I was an NCSYer, we just had a great time getting together and preparing a skit for the Shabbaton. Now that was fun!” Teens today are still doing the same thing. The difference is that today their “skits” are now multimedia productions with 3D graphics and imported YouTube clips. These are created by a few chapter members who live a three-hour drive from one another and are prepared using their tablet computers on Google hangout. Why? Because NCSY has, and always will, engage teens where they are today–and that is where they are today.
RMM: What challenges does NCSY face today?
YM: During the second half of the previous generation, Jewish teens from any and all types of backgrounds hung around synagogues, the local JCCs, and community centers. Today, teens are not found there. Our challenge is finding them and meeting them where they are. To that end, NCSY runs an extensive network of public school-based clubs, during their club hour, including in Lawrence High School.
RMM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
YM: I am a fortunate man! I have been blessed with the opportunity to assist current and post-high school NCSYers by introducing them to and connecting them with Jewish experiences after high school, whether it’s yeshivot in Israel or a Jewish college campus program. My role and my team’s role is focused on assisting NCSYers to their next Jewish step in life. It’s exhilarating when an NCSYer will call me up and say, “Rabbi, I want to go study in Israel; can you help me?” That’s when the fun begins; the challenge of making that dream a reality.
RMM: How has NCSY impacted your life?
YM: NCSY has been the most influential experience of my life. It has shaped me as a husband, a father, a student, a teacher, a friend, a professional, a community member. Another way of saying that is: NCSY has shaped me as a Jew.
RMM: What has been NCSY’s impact on our Five Towns/Far Rockaway community?
YM: There are opportunities for teens, no matter what background they come from, to feel comfortable and to have the ability to explore who they are and where they fall into the fabric of the Jewish people. That could mean anything from religious inspiration and education, a growing local or national Jewish social network, incredible summer programs, leadership opportunities, to just having fun, to a multitude of other categories. This pertains to the public school (PS) student from Huntsville, Alabama to a Yeshiva Day School (YDS) teen in Cedarhurst and everywhere in between; they all have a place in NCSY.
NCSY not only can and does give a platform for YDS students to assist public school kids when it comes to understanding how to wash one’s hands before a meal or how to lay tefillin on his arm, but equally, if not more importantly, the YDS students are exposed to the earnest desire for clarity and a freshness to yahadut that the PS teen presents as he/she goes through the process of discovering what Judaism has to offer. This process, which most YDS teens and, sadly, many “frum from birth” adults, have never stopped to reflect upon, is a major advantage that teens from YDS backgrounds gain by participating in NCSY. We have seen this countless times in the Five Towns where teens from shomer Shabbat homes participate in NCSY and have a renewed excitement and purpose towards their Judaism, the Jewish community, and the land of Israel.
RMM: Rabbi Marchuck, what is your message to our readers?
YM: NCSY is not a youth group; it’s a movement and it has been for the last 60 years. There are a handful of organizations that make up the foundation of the American Jewish community over the past 100 years. The Orthodox Union and NCSY is one of those few without which where would the North American Jew be today? Ï–