War in Israel, But NCSY Summer Programs Carry On

NCSY summer programs in the US, Israel and abroad have consistently promised and delivered the “best summer ever” for thousands of grateful teens. This year was no exception—despite the fact that eight out of our twelve summer programs were based in Israel when the war in Gaza broke out.

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Girls participating in NCSY’s GIVE program, a five-week Israel summer program where high-school girls experience hands-on Judaism through chesed. Photo: Benji Cheirif

Thanks to the Herculean efforts of David Cutler, director of NCSY summer programs and finances, and the rest of the incredible NCSY summer program staff, programs were relocated to Israel’s north. Itineraries changed, literally overnight, to ensure that the 535 teens were safe and secure while still getting the “Israel experience.” Virtually all participants remained with their programs, despite parents’ understandable concerns. Two programs canceled plans to travel to Israel, for logistical reasons—The Anne Samson The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) was rerouted to a tour of the West Coast, and Europe ICE extended its stay in Europe. But eight programs already in Israel or traveling from Europe, including NCSY Kollel and Michlelet, relocated to the north. Some of the dedicated rebbeim and faculty periodically traveled three-and-a-half hours, each way! Even with the war in the background, teens kept up a full touring schedule: boating on the Kineret, visiting waterparks and hiking in Ein Gedi, but they also made camouflage tzitzit for the chayalim, dedicated their learning to individual soldiers and made shivah calls to families of those who fell in battle. “They created stronger bonds with each other because of the difficult situation,” said one mother with two teens in the programs.

Yachad’s flagship Yad B’Yad program, which takes mainstream high school students together with young adults with special needs on a tour of Israel, also made alternate plans for logistical reasons. In a matter of days, its remarkable staff pulled together a phenomenal West Coast tour, replete with Salt River tubing and a visit to the Grand Canyon. Yachad/NJCD, the largest provider of Jewish camping opportunities for individuals with disabilities, offers seventeen camping programs.

The OU’s Israel Free Spirit Taglit-Birthright Israel ran its full range of trips, most with few cancellations.

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This article was featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Jewish Action.
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