Nominated and written by Sammy Aronson, NCSY Alumnus
Portland, OR is not the first place that comes to most people’s mind when you think of a thriving Jewish community. Rabbi Chanan and Meira Spivak moved to Portland 7 years ago. At the time, I was in Public Middle School. I wasn’t so into the whole Jewish thing, my family was very traditional, we drove to Shul and ate vegetarian out.
The Spivaks were hired to be the new directors of NCSY in Portland. They took a group of maybe 10 teens and built it into a thriving chapter, attracting droves of teens to weekly events, Shabbatons, and summer programs. I was privileged to be part of that chapter, when I started going to Latte and Learning in 8th grade. That same year I went on a couple Shabbatons, I had never been with so many Jewish teens in one place. It was amazing. One thing that I was really impressed with, was how Rabbi and Meira were so cool, fun, and outgoing even though they lived lives strictly according to Jewish practice. I had never been exposed to people like that, I had always associated being religious with not being fun or outgoing.
That summer I went to Israel for the first time for my cousin’s wedding, my family spent a total of two weeks there. I came back from Israel with a new sense of Jewish pride and a desire to grow in my Jewish observance…..but I had no idea how to do that.
NCSY and the Spivaks became my lifeline in growing in a commitment Judaism. I started public high school and as my high school friends can tell you, I lived and breathed NCSY. I started learning with Rabbi Spivak my freshmen year , and we continued throughout my high school career. The Spivaks opened up their home to me as well as any Jewish teen who wanted. On a given Shabbos afternoon you could find anywhere from 5-20 teens chilling in their basement, schmoozing with Rabbi Spivak and Meira, playing with their kids, eating Meira’s delicious food, and overall just having a great time.
Whenever I needed any sort of life advice, Rabbi Spivak has always been there to help me deal with the challenges that present themselves to a high schooler who wants to be more committed. To this day, I consider him to be my Rebbi and continue to ask him questions on Judaism and life in general.
Thank G-d, I stayed with NCSY all throughout high school. The Spivaks helped me to get to Yeshivat Lev Hatorah in Israel, where I stayed for a year and a half before going to Yeshiva University. I owe them so much, they have truly changed my life.