Nominated and written by Alisa Stein, NCSY Parent
My husband and I both grew up Orthodox but turned away in college. Once we had children, we slowly turned back. We tried to interest our children in Jewish social events, but they had no interest. They had their friends from Hebrew school and regular secular school but that was it. We moved from New Jersey to Mercer Island, WA, and as a way to have the children make friends we tried to sign them up for the local Jewish teen activities such us BBYO and USY. Neither of those two clicked with the children. Then we were told about NCSY and signed the kids up for a Shabbaton. The first time, the kids refused to go because they felt uncomfortable around all the Jewish day school/yeshiva kids. A year later, we tried again.
All three of our children went, under duress. Two of them came home thinking it was “eh.” But our third child, Emma, came home in love. From that moment on, she was hooked on NCSY. Emma knows all the prayers from her years in Chabad Hebrew School and from being around all her relatives who are Orthodox. She started going to the JSU clubs at her school and to Latte & Learning in the evenings. She didn’t miss a Shabbaton. She learnt that wearing skirts isn’t, in fact, the end of the world. Keeping Shabbat is fine too. Emma lost her complex about hanging out with the Orthodox teens and started asking questions — not about Halacha (which she knows from our house environment) but about the meaning of being a Jew in the Seattle area.
It’s not the dress code. It’s not the prayers. It’s not the rules. It’s the feeling of belonging to a tribe where everyone has the same goal; sings the same songs; and follows the same concepts. Emma started listening to more Israeli and Jewish music and singing her NCSY songs around the house. When this school year started, she joined the Seattle NCSY board and now loves planning and discussing events. She worked tirelessly to revive the JSU club at Mercer Island High, combatting school prejudices and complexities. She makes up one of the JUMP winners. She thinks about what she can do to help our community and to bond not only with the NCSY kids, but tries to get some of the BBYO and USY kids to see that “we are all Jews in a tiny pond” in the Seattle area. She is, in essence, rallying the troops.
My daughter went from complaining about boring house “Jewish” rules, to asking to go to shul (Shevet Achim) on Shabbat. She loves being Jewish. She loves the belonging feeling. She loves helping out and being a Jew. She has gone from someone who just “was” a Jew and an NCSY member, to someone who “IS” an active Jew and NCSY groupie. I am sure she will continue in this vein, (dragging her twin brother and younger sister along), and I see her as a leader in the community.
My husband and I could not be prouder of the way she is handling herself and growing into a beautiful woman and Jew.