As an organization, you don’t get to celebrate sixty successful years without inspiring a sense of continuity. And for three families, NCSY, like a favorite heirloom, is passed down from one generation to the next.
Danny Krombach’s favorite NCSY memory was in 1973 when, as a twelve-year-old, he lugged a giant metal pan filled with chicken and spices to the oven to cook for 250 NCSYers for an NCSY Shabbaton in St. Louis.
Ten years before, his parents John and Edna, who were Holocaust survivors, helped bring NCSY to St. Louis to provide their children and their friends with a safe and fun place to be Jewish. A toddler at the time, Krombach was shipped over to family friends while his parents ran NCSY’s first Shabbaton west of the Mississippi.
“I recall spending many evenings sitting in the social hall of our synagogue while my parents and other parents worked in the kitchen preparing for Shabbatons,” Krombach said.
Aviva Gonsher, Krombach’s niece, remembered her grandparents’ commitment to NCSY and their Jewish community.
“My grandmother would do anything for anyone, especially inside the kitchen,” remembered Aviva. “My grandfather would do anything for anyone outside the kitchen. They enjoyed watching the community grow. What they saw was death and they wanted to see growth, and NCSY was a part of that.”
NCSY was still in its infancy then and, Krombach admitted, chapters were willing to take risks on programming that might not turn out so well, including holding a winter conclave in a campsite during a blizzard. Some of the early efforts succeeded beyond their wildest imagination, like an inspirational Shabbaton held in an army base in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, to accommodate Jewish children who lived with their parents at the base.
“We slept in barracks and ate out of the massive mess hall,” Krombach recalled. “We converted a meeting room into a beit medrash. It was a massive undertaking.”
Krombach himself enjoyed a long and storied career in NCSY beginning with his first official event at a Winter Sports Conclave held in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1975. Years later, he returned to NCSY as a chapter advisor, and then, as a parent in Los Angeles, encouraged his children to attend West Coast NCSY.
Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY, is of the belief that family involvement is one of the hallmarks of what makes NCSY so successful. “The effects NCSY has isn’t only on one person,” he explained. “The inspiration we provide changes families and can then change communities.”
Krombach’s daughter met her future husband at an NCSY Shabbaton when the two were just starting NCSY.
The Rohatiner family of Los Angeles has a similar story. Marc Rohatiner, a partner at the law firm of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, joined NCSY in 1971, the year Lee Samson was hired to run West Coast NCSY. “It was revolutionary at the time,” reflected Marc, who went to a public high school. “We now take for granted all this outreach to non-observant Jews as something you just do but that wasn’t always the case.”
Marc eventually went on to serve as the second regional president of West Coast NCSY, where he helped direct the region’s efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry. As Marc became more involved and Torah observant, his family followed suit, moving to be closer to the Beth Jacob Congregation in Los Angeles where Samson was also the youth director.
Marc’s brother Jeff also became involved in NCSY as soon as he reached high school, though unlike Marc, Jeff went to a Jewish day school.
“I remember being hooked right away after experiencing an NCSY kumsitz and dancing… It was different than the kind of yiddishkeit being shared in day schools,” said Jeff, who now runs the popular Los Angeles restaurant Jeff’s Gourmet. “I wasn’t really inspired until NCSY.”
As Marc and Jeff became involved, their father Manny joined up as well, and eventually became the Youth Commissioner for the Orthodox Union’s West Coast Division.
Looking back, Marc says that his experience in NCSY helped shape the man he is today. “I’m a community activist, member of the AIPAC national council and Los Angeles Federation’s board, and president of my synagogue, Beth Jacob,” he said. “NCSY was my first exposure to lay leadership and I definitely got excellent training there. On a personal level, it’s where I made most of my long-lasting friends. It also introduced me to an Orthodox lifestyle that I am intimately part of and I wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for NCSY.”
Marc and Jeff’s children marked the third generation of involvement with NCSY. Jeff’s daughter, Tova, was an NCSY regional board member. “My father had spoken of his involvement with the organization, but I never really understood its importance until I experienced it for myself,” explained Tova. “NCSY provided me with an outlet to connect to Judaism with my peers outside of an academic environment.”
Charlie Garfunkel of Savannah, GA, can trace his family’s involvement right to the beginning with NCSY’s first chapter at Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob in the early 1950s under the leadership of Rabbi Abraham I. Rosenberg who worked with Garfunkel’s father, Benjamin a”h, a shul officer, to start a local youth movement. “It was an opportunity for the kids to get together and enjoy each other’s company under the auspices of the synagogue,” he said.
Garfunkel’s favorite memories of NCSY were the weekly get-togethers on Sunday mornings. “We’d have a minyan and breakfast, followed by an activity,” he said. “The ladies from the sisterhood would cook the breakfast and there was a kosher bakery called Gottleib that would send us fresh bagels and doughnuts.”
While the Savannah chapter of NCSY was dormant for many years, when the chapter restarted three years ago, its success was immediate. The chapter received the coveted Chapter of the Year from Southern NCSY under the leadership of Rabbi Eli Lob. Rabbi Lob credited NCSY’s rich history in the area with the chapter’s success.“I have parents come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed NCSY in their youth,” said Rabbi Lob. “You can tell the chapter means a lot to all the parents who were once NCSYers.”
Among the stalwarts of the chapter was Charlie’s son, Benji, who is currently spending the year in Yeshivat Ohr Samaech in Israel.“My family has been in America for six generations and we’re very connected to our shul,” Benji explained. “NCSY helped me forge that connection and it got teens coming together for something good. NCSY is now part of my history.”
Krombach pointed to another reason for NCSY’s intergenerational success. He counts six families that were made directly through teens meeting in NCSY. Krombach’s brother was in the same NCSY chapter as his future wife, and Krombach met his wife through NCSY, as did his daughter, who just got married in February. Three of his nieces also met their husbands through NCSY. Aviva, his niece, married Rabbi Ben Gonsher who is currently the regional director of institutional advancement for Southern NCSY.
“NCSY was a family adventure,” Aviva explained. “My older sister was on regional board and my parents met there. It was a part of our day-to-day life. NCSY was a way of life for our family and remains an integral part of it to this day.”
Have an idea for a post? Let us know! Share your ideas below and don’t forget to share the memories with your friends!