Advisors: the Heart and Soul of the OU

Martin Nachimson2By Martin Nachimson

This past year, NCSY reached 19,000 kids in nearly 200 cities across the US and Canada.
In May alone, NCSY ran 1,361 events in 191 cities.

To what can we attribute NCSY’s extraordinary success?

There’s no question that NCSY’s vibrancy is due to its dynamic and charismatic international director Rabbi Micah Greenland and his stellar national team including Keevy Fried, associate international director and Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, managing director. Of course, on the regional level, we have much to boast about as well: some of the most creative and inspired Jewish educators and outreach professionals have chosen to make NCSY their professional home. We are ever so grateful and lucky.

But if you ask me who is truly responsible for the astounding success of an organization that some sixty years ago many predicted would never make it (and they most certainly did not dream it would become the largest and most effective Jewish youth organization in the world!), I would have to say that the key to our success is the young men and women, the advisors, who work hard to serve as role models and develop deep and enduring bonds with NCSYers.

From its inception, NCSY’s success was rooted in its advisors, a select group of highly idealistic, highly motivated college-age students and young adults who volunteered to travel to Shabbaton after Shabbaton in NCSY regions across the country, making Yiddishkeit come alive in communities where Orthodox life was barely surviving or nonexistent. In the fifties and sixties, when shuls struggling amidst rampant assimilation invited NCSY for a Shabbaton, it often changed the dynamics of the shul and the entire community. Suddenly, aging shul members witnessed, for the first time, dozens of teens who were passionate and excited about religious life. This gave these shuls not only hope for their own future, but hope for the future of Orthodoxy in America.

Today, NCSY’s success is still tied to our cadre of energetic and enthusiastic advisors—now numbering close to 750 young men and women. But in truth, volunteers do not only serve as the backbone for NCSY; they serve as the heart and soul of so many OU programs including Yachad, Heart to Heart/Kahal Fellows and Israel Free Spirit-Birthright Israel. All in all, OU volunteers number well over a thousand.

We are deeply indebted to our exceptional group of volunteers, and because we value them, we invest in them. At the OU, we have made volunteer management and training a priority.

Just a few weeks ago, gearing up for its fourteen summer programs, NCSY ran a five-day, intense mandatory training in Connecticut for 230 summer program staff and advisors from across the country. Led by top professionals, the NCSY Summer Staff Training Weekend—an impressive, highly professional seminar—focused on team-building and preparing staff to give the teens the best summer of their lives.

When it comes to training though, Yachad often takes the lead. Offering high-level training for those working with individuals with special needs, Yachad ensures that its advisors are well prepared to provide for the specific needs of Yachad members of all ages. But training takes place across the board—our Heart to Heart program/Kahal Fellows as well as our Israel Free Spirit-Birthright Israel teams all receive quality leadership training.

We invest in our volunteers because we believe in them. Our volunteers are the crème de la crème of the Orthodox world; they are motivated, they are passionate, they are driven. By providing our volunteers with the right leadership training and opportunities, we are helping to create the Jewish leaders
of tomorrow.

Before I end, I’d like to share a message with the volunteers themselves.We recently celebrated Shavuot, a yom tov during which Jewish farmers in ancient times used to bring bikkurim, the first and finest fruit, to the Beit Hamikdash. Bikkurim represent the idea that we must devote the best of ourselves, our “first” energy and resources, to Hashem.

This interpretation, which I heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, a maggid shiur at Yeshivat Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem and a contributor to Jewish Action, so beautifully exemplifies your mesirut nefesh. Irrespective of which OU program you volunteer for, we thank you for devoting your prime energy and kochot for the klal. A tremendous yasher kochachem.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Jewish Action.
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