June 7, 2014


Orly Ohayon inspires others after tragedy strikes.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, as Orly Ohayon and her mother were making their way to shul for the Kol Nidrei service, a car crashed into them. Esther, Orly’s mother, was declared dead at the scene, while Orly was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. A police officer who witnessed Orly flatlining told her friends inside the synagogue that she had died in the accident as well. Ten minutes later, the officer returned and told them that she had been revived.

“The teenagers inside the shul were white as sheets,” recalled Rabbi Shaya Hauptman, director of Jacksonville NCSY, who was in the Etz Chaim Synagogue where the family davens when the accident occurred.

The next day, as Orly underwent emergency surgery, her friends prayed for her and took on kabballot, extra observances, on behalf of her recovery. Rabbi Hauptman brought in a social worker to speak with the teens and help them begin to process the situation. When word was received that she was out of critical condition, “everyone took a deep breath,” said Rabbi Hauptman.

Orly together with her mother Esther a"h on vacation in Key West, Florida.

Orly together with her mother Esther a”h on vacation in Key West, Florida.

Teens around the world began doing mitzvot and writing down their accomplishments on a shared Google document and on a Facebook group entitled “Nothing Can Stop You.” Nothing Can Stop You is the personal acronym that Orly derived from NCSY’s initials. A hundred and fifty teens in Israel prayed at the Kotel for her sake.

Karen Steinberg, COO of Southern NCSY, only heard about the tragedy as the fast finished. She and Todd Cohn, executive director of Southern NCSY, flew up to visit Orly days later.

Steinberg said she was struck by Orly’s serenity in the ICU. When Steinberg told Orly about what other teens were doing for her, Orly asked her to pass along a message. “Tell everybody I said thank you, and that I really appreciate it. Keep davening and keep smiling,” Orly told her.

In total, more than 330 teens from across the world signed up to do mitzvot in Orly’s honor, from small dedications like saying blessings on their food from a bencher and reading tehilim to spending a few days working with children that have special needs.

A group of Las Vegas NCSYers met immediately following the news of Orly's accident to send cards of comfort and to raise money for her medical expenses. The teens sold bracelets that read #nothingcanstopyou #orlyinspires.

A group of Las Vegas NCSYers met immediately following the news of Orly’s accident to send cards of comfort and to raise money for her medical expenses. The teens sold bracelets that read #nothingcanstopyou #orlyinspires.

“Orly, there is so much that is special about you and so much that I admire. But what has always stood out to me the most about you is how you are so proud to be Jewish,” wrote one teen on Facebook, who decided to be more careful with modest dress in Orly’s honor.

NCSY alumni in Israel sponsored a concert to raise money for Orly’s rehabilitation while NCSYers did their own fundraising which raised more than $40,000. Friends stayed with Orly in the hospital over Sukkot and Shabbat.

The next few months for Orly were filled with what seemed like endless physical therapy, but she said that the efforts of her fellow teens helped her tremendously. “It’s amazing to see how people — friends and people I didn’t know — came together and did things in the merit of my refuah (recovery),” Orly said.

Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY, said that Orly’s story represents NCSY’s mission at large. “Orly’s story emphasizes what makes NCSY so important to teens across the world,” he said. “From this awful tragedy, teens across the world were able to bring light into the world.”

Rabbi Hauptman said that he believes the effort was a response to Orly’s magnetic personality. “She is known throughout NCSY for her effervescence and her motto of ‘Keep smiling,’” he said. A regular in NCSY Jacksonville, Orly attended TJJ in her freshman year and spent last summer on NCSY’s Michlelet summer program. “People see the ideal in Orly and they took the inspiration when it presented itself,” said Rabbi Hauptman.

In December, Orly updated the Facebook group started in her honor with an important status: She had stood up for the first time since the accident.

“I think nowadays people take smiling for granted,” Orly explained. “There is a time for mourning, a time for grief, and a time to process what happened; but there is also a time to create happiness within darkness: Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha.: Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha — serve Hashem with joy.”

After four months of being home schooled and catching up with her class, Orly returned to school in March.

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