Director’s Message: “Preparation”

Please do not search your emails to check if this is a resend from the first week of the summer.  We assure you that the title of this week’s email is no mistake.

It’s true that the start of the NCSY Summer Kollel would have been an apt time to highlight all the advance work that contributes to such a special program.  Much of what we have shared provides a brilliant example of our Sages’ teaching that “there is no holiness without preparation.”   The work of our local NCSY Kollel staff and the tireless efforts of the great team at the National NCSY offices in New York provide the platform for all of our later successes.  Our programming design and early summer educational agenda are both focused on acclimation and adaptation to the six remarkable weeks to follow.  The events over a summer on NCSY Kollel do not just happen, rather they are the direct consequence of simple preparation.

But this spirit is equally central to our last days together as well.  It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but we eschew a complete focus on reflection and memories as the program winds down.   Instead, these moments are defined by their spirit of preparation and forward thinking.

This is certainly true on an administrative level, where the work for summer 2018 has already begun.  Pre-Registration for next summer starts now, calendars are close to finalized, and campus improvements are being worked on as we speak.  The NFL and NBA sometimes boast of their cultural footprint by pointing out that they are “12 month” leagues, with GM meetings, drafting of new players, transactions, and practices all capturing the attention of fans and supporters.  Well, NCSY Summer is a 12 (13 in a Jewish leap year) month league too, with post summer review, reunion events, follow up programming, detailed planning, trip itineraries, staff hires, and training sessions filling the fall, winter, and spring months.

But it is even more important to note how “preparation” is a dominant concept during our last week on a more educational level.  The NCSY Kollel experience extends far beyond its six week run.  It is not only through the deep impressions and memories that each NCSYer enjoys, nor is it limited to the vital and invaluable relationships that will further develop and mature in the months and years ahead.  It is all of that, and also a clear sense of purpose and mission to enhance our lives in the places to which we return, and to insure that NCSY Kollel is not reduced to the confines of Beit Meir or a single summer.

This past Sunday’s Leil Iyun provided a perfect model for this.  We explained to the NCSYers that the special evening of learning actually had two primary themes.  On the surface level, there was one unified topic, “Relationships,” and each of the 10 world-class offerings addressed a different aspect of it.  But more subtly, the theme of the night was our anticipated return.  In all of the discussions, whether they centered on family, friends, or community, there was a subtext of applying lessons from NCSY Kollel to life beyond.  The language of our examples shifted from our sports courts and dormitory, and moved towards the scenarios and situations the NCSYers will likely encounter in the days to come.

Significantly, this was communicated by the prominence of some of the presenters themselves, not only the substance of the presentations.  The learning culminated in a special wrap-up talk delivered by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Boca Raton Synagogue.  Rabbi Goldberg is always a scintillating speaker, but his visit at this point in the summer was especially meaningful because of the opportunity it provided to further the partnership and connection between the summer learning and the shuls at home.  Perhaps the most gratifying part of a wonderful evening was seeing the Florida NCSYers greet Rabbi Goldberg, learn with him, and, yes, prepare for their further interactions back in Boca.

Rabbi Goldberg was just one of many visitors who fit this profile.  Over the summer we’ve welcomed an almost endless stream of visitors to our Beis Medrash and campus.  These have included a dozen or so other summer programs, outstanding Torah leaders and visionaries, inspiring speakers, and a host of outstanding community leaders from the OU, NCSY, and other organizations and Torah institutions.  But, without any insult to these individuals, we have been most excited to host many representatives of schools, shuls, and NCSY Regions from which our NCSYers have come.  This week alone we had visits from 2 NCSY Regional Directors, another 3 City Directors, 3 school principals, and 2 shul rabbis. This speaks to the very high level of cooperation and collaboration that exists between NCSY Kollel and its partners.  Perhaps most importantly, it speaks to our understanding that we are working to prepare NCSYers for whatever comes next.  We do not operate on an educational island or, G-d forbid, in opposition to any of these influences or forces.  Not only is there harmony between the different parties, but also there is true synergy and support.

Somewhat surprisingly, this mentality was evident even in the spectacular context of our mega-Tiyul to Eilat.  The picturesque hikes provided images and view points that were as memorable as they were moving.  From my perspective, some of the most important scenes did not involve majestic mountains or colorful canyons.  Most notably, I would refer to the incomparable setting for our morning prayers.  Atop Masada or on the awesome hilltops of Eilat there was a prayer experience like no other.  But while the minyanim were wholly unique, they were neither apart from nor irrelevant to our more standard prayer opportunities.  Daybreak on a mountaintop would be extraordinary if it stopped there.  But we endeavor to prepare our NCSYers for a lifetime of meaningful prayer through these experiences.  Our hope is that one Tuesday on top of the world will inform on more mundane prayers for a long time to come.  Is this guaranteed to work?  Unfortunately not.  But it is part of our mission statement and a major factor in our preparations throughout the summer.

Similarly, on hikes and trips like this, the most valuable moments are not necessarily the most grandiose.  Each mountain climb and bus ride provides occasion for bonding and mentorship that are second to none.  This is not a hypothesis, but an observable fact.  Our Eilat excursion, like all of our tiyulim, saw NCSYers and staff in deep conversation about both the immediate opportunities and challenges before them, but also about the road that lies ahead.

It should be reiterated that preparation applies to our talented staff as well.  When we provide the highest caliber staff training sessions, we are not only endeavoring to enhance the quality of their performance while with us this summer, but we are fully cognizant that we are shaping tomorrow’s leaders and building our communities through our development of teachers and investment in their growth.

In truth, this has been a theme of the entire summer, not just the last stretch.  Take, for example, Yom NCSY.  Much has already been described about the great energy and enthusiasm at that uplifting gathering.  But two yearly traditions may have escaped full attention.  There are highlight videos for all of the tours and buses and a number of other entertaining presentations.  In the middle of it all, there are two short video clips that speak volumes.  The first depicts the wide range of NCSY programming options throughout the year.  These programs appeal to a diverse audience and cater to our entire population on NCSY Kollel.  There are co-ed and single gender programs, learning ventures and more social activities, Chessed Missions and public school clubs.  NCSY’s Community Beis Medrash Program has started to bring NCSY Kollel style learning to locations across North America.  In the second video, new summer programs for 2018 were introduced.  In both instances, even while enjoying and celebrating the here and now, there is always a thought about what comes next.

And so, this has been, appropriately and predictably, a week of great climaxes and exuberance.  The learning and league championships provided thrill after thrill.  Eilat and our final run of Mini Tiyul programs gave a final boost to our love of the land.  The banquet siyum was great and meaningful fun.  We enjoyed the entertainment from our first ever NCSY Kollel Choir and a fantastic Talent Show.   The Shlomo Katz concert at our Shabbos Nachamu Melava Malka brought the house down.  200+ were still pushing after midnight at our closing Mishmar program.  But the realest story was one of preparation.  Not for the summer or an event, but for the day after and the further steps and growth that await us.

Now that theme comes together in real time as we enjoy a last Friday together and get ready for Shabbos.  It is truly preparing for a Shabbos of preparation.  The anticipation for a Shabbos of spirit and togetherness is at an all-time high.  We are sure that it will not disappoint.

Through it all, we will be thinking of next Shabbos and preparing to bring NCSY Kollel home.

 

Looking forward,

Moshe Benovitz