Nominated and written by Chevi Friedman, Former NCSYer
Growing up in my house was confusing. I went to a yeshiva my whole life, learning about Judaism and halachot. But we didn’t keep any of those halachot that I learned at home. We watched TV after lighting Shabbos candles, we went to McDonalds when we couldn’t eat at home because of Pesach cleaning. I never knew where I stood with Judaism and for the most part, I never really cared. When I started NY NCSY in 9th grade, I finally gained an understanding of the beauty in Judaism, not just the halachot that I knew I would never keep. I finally felt like I belonged to the Jewish people, belonged to a group of people with one goal and one basic way of life.
When I joined NY NCSY, I joined a family and the leader of that family was Rabbi Nahum Zak. Here was a rabbi, the likes I had never seen before. He was funny, he was cool, he liked the same music and TV shows that I did. But he also seemed to love Hashem and his religion in a way I had never seen before. He was so honest about his relationship with Hashem, the struggles, the things he loved, and the ways he connected. Rabbi Zak taught me that you can have a relationship with Hashem without being a complete tzaddik. He taught me that growth will not all come at once, but that baby steps are the only way to go about it. He taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to fail as long as you get up and keep trying.
Rabbi Zak opened his home to us for Shabbos, something I took advantage of frequently. Sitting at his Shabbos table, I realized the greatness of Shabbos for the first time. Sitting at Rabbi Zak’s Shabbos table I decided that this was the life I wanted this for myself, more than anything I had ever wanted before. It’s the life I was born to live, and Rabbi Nahum Zak helped me see that. I am eternally grateful to him.