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Friday, February 7, 2014

NCSY at 60!, Havdalah, What? I'm Not Unique?!

It's hard to believe that NCSY National Conference of Synagogue Youth of the OU is celebrating sixty years of activities and bringing Jewish youth closer to Torah, G-d and the Mitzvot.  I became religious, shomeret mitzvot, aka Orthodox through what I saw, felt and learned in NCSY in the mid-1960's.

When I went to my first Shabbaton in the fall, early winter of 1963 I knew nothing of Torah Judaism.  Of course I knew that I was Jewish.  My family didn't celebrate Christmas or Easter, but we didn't observe kashrut, Shabbat or most of the Jewish Holidays and certainly none of the fast days besides going to shul on Yom Kippur.

The Judaism I became acquainted with, under the instruction/supervision of Rabbi Pinchas Stolper and Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, who jointly headed NCSY at the time, was a full-time religion.  It would be a lie to claim or imply that I was smitten by my first introduction to Torah Judaism.  The truth is that I was more attracted to the social and organizational life I discovered in NCSY.  In direct contrast to my new life in Great Neck where we had just moved to the summer of 1962, in NCSY I found friends and approval.  Yes, nobody shunned me for wearing the wrong clothes, even though my tops were sleeveless which I knew was against regulations.  The administrators and advisors knew when and where to pick their battles.

As I worked my way up as chapter and regional officer, nobody forced a sweater on me, even at National Convention 1965. I had very carefully and "davkally" chosen my wardrobe without a sleeve or sweater, pushing limits even as I enthusiastically participated and listened to every session/lecture and every event. I also stood out as an energy-filled dancer at all meals and opportunities.  The effect of the mantra-like lyrics of the songs we sang must have sunk in very deeply, though I was unaware.

עבדו את ה' בשמחה
Ivdu et Hashem b'Simcha
Worship G-d with Joy



Nobody was more surprised than myself when during the Havdalah, which ends Shabbat, Rabbi Stolper's words finally "cracked" my resistance and suddenly I was in tears vowing to bring Shabbat and all of the other Mitzvot to my everyday life.

Please don't think it was an easy, quick path or battle. I had many hurdles in terms of family, friends and school.  Of course even almost fifty years later I consider it all worth it.  I can't imagine my life without the Torah, Mitzvot and living in Israel. Friends I made in NCSY are still my friends, and I do my best to be a credit to NCSY.  This picture is up in my home for all to see.


I had always thought that my story about Havdalah being the key to my neshama soul was unique, but apparently it isn't.  Havdalah is the ceremony that separates the Holy Day of Shabbat with the other days of the week.  It's the reality check.  We can't have Shabbat if we don't do the weekday chores and preparations. In This World we have to balance the two.  It takes six days of work to create and prepare for Shabbat.  Listening to Rabbi Stolper speak, and I don't remember after all these years decades what he actually said, it was clear to me that I couldn't continue living without my weekly dose of Shabbat.  From the short video/film that NCSY produced, I wasn't the only one whose spiritual vulnerability was touched by Havdalah.


After that Havdalah, my life was never the same, and I will always be grateful to NCSY and the amazing staff it had at the time for that.

15 comments:

Shy Guy said...

OK. This has triggered me to start a new Minhag in my household. Keep in mind that I come from an Torah observant home and have always been Torah observant. Also, I have never attended any NCSY event to the best of my recollection. That's just the way it is.

A while ago, we were invited away from home for a Bar Mitzvah of a friend's family. At the end of Shabbat, one of the family members brought out a guitar for Havdalah. everyone sang Hinei Kel Yeshuati in unison.

I am not a sing-song type of person but something inside clicked. Now, after watching the NCSY Havdalah clip here, I want to sing Havdalah when I say it tomorrow night and make it a permanent Minhag for my wife and kids.

I'd appreciate tune recommendations. Please post recommended links. Thanks and Shabbat Shalom.

Saul Mashbaum said...

I found this posting, and the clip that accompanied it, incredibly moving. Someone I know was an NCSY-er about 40 years ago, has been observant ever since, and wrote that to this day, when he makes havdalah, he can hear the NCSY band in the background. He's not alone. Thank you so much for posting this.

Shy Guy said...

I've been doing some homework. Of course there's the very popular Moditz Havdalah.

But this complex Carlbach niggun takes the candle!

Any other suggestions?

yaak said...

Nice post.

A couple tidbits:

1) Rabbi Stolper now lives here in Chicago, where his daughter and son-in-law live.

2) My parents led the first 2 NCSY summer trips to Israel.

Batya Medad said...

Shy, if you have kids in your havdalah "choir" then let each one choose a tune or song week by week. Don't impose it. Let the expanded ceremony evolve to suit your family.

Saul, your math is off. Two of my kids are over 40 already... yes, I'm younger than they are....

yaak, small world

Netivotgirl said...

For me Batya, it wasn't Havdala that heralded THE change in my life... it was the dancing at the end of year National Conference Shabbaton in the early 70's. The Olam Haba that Rabbi Stolper has is immeasurable!!

I am grateful that while at Touro College in '76-77 I was a counselor at Shabbatons in several regions; a small way to 'pay forward' to others. Without NCSY I shudder to think what my life might be like today.

Thanks so much for sharing the moving clip and bringing back precious memories! BTW, the 2 counselors who were closest to me in my earliest Shomer Shabbat days are still dear friends to this day.....

Batya Medad said...

ng, dancing at the meals and all other times was great but it was something Rabbi Stolper said at that Havdala that really turned the key.

yitz said...

Very moving post. Credit MUST be given here to Reb Shlomo Carlebach of blessed memory, for pioneering the "musical Havdala" way back when. (I wonder when he first started this?!).
ShyGuy: even the Modzitz Havdala you posted was set to that tune by Reb Carlebach. The "complex Carlebach niggun" really isn't so complex, because only the first 2-1/2 minutes of that clip is Reb Shlomo's (and was sung with a harmonic variation). The chant of the blessings that follows was NOT part of the original tune.
Finally, one should view this clip for Reb Shlomo's words and tune, from the originator!

Saul Mashbaum said...

I found this posting, and the clip that accompanied it, incredibly moving. Someone I know was an NCSY-er about 40 years ago, has been observant ever since, and wrote that to this day, when he makes havdalah, he can hear the NCSY band in the background. He's not alone. Thank you so much for posting this.

Batya Medad said...

Saul, there's no expiration date for hakarat hatov.

Yitz, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach wasn't part of my NCSY scene. I just can't imagine the rabbis putting up with his "being affectionate." And I was involved with NCSY before I ever heard of Reb Shlomo.

There were a number of simultaneous parallel now-called "kiruv" attempts going on in the 1960's. Each had its successes and suited different sorts of people.

Anonymous said...

Great video, but I really appreciated the photo circa 1965 with Rabbi Stolper, Rabbi Chaim Wasserman and Rabbi Louis Ginsburg. Who are the 2 NCSYers on the left?

Anonymous said...

I also remember Rabbi Stolper, Rabbi Wasserman and Rabbi Ginsburg z"l who came form Utica NY and Har Sinai Region.The male ncsy'er is Dr David Hurwitz from Syracuse, New York and Har Sinai Region. David was National President. I'm honored to say that I've had the pleasure and influence of these great people in my life. I must include another great individual known to all as Rabbi Yitz. NCSY has been a part of my life since around 1963. I am proud to be an alumni.

Batya Medad said...

a1, that's David Hurwitz and yours truly. The date is June, 1967 to be exact. David was outgoing National President and I was outgoing National Financial Secretary.

a2, who are you? Did you go to Nationals? Did we know each other?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember David Hurwitz looking like that and I knew him years before the photo. But over 45 - 50 years memories fade. Is the Yitz referred to - Yitz Rosenberg?

David is now a pediatrician in Kew Garden Hills.

Batya Medad said...

That was David