Few people can say they inspired thousands of Jews to move to Israel. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) and an NCSY alum, can.
Fass became involved with NCSY in elementary school. “NCSY exposed teens to passionate Judaism,” he said. “Meeting advisors and rabbis who were cool helped many of us, even if we were from observant homes, develop a more intense relationship with Hashem.”
His roommate at Yeshiva University High School for Boys was the New York NCSY regional president, and Fass remembers how inundated his roommate was by phone calls from other board members. “There was this one girl in particular who called often, and I tried to intercept those calls so I could get a few minutes to speak with her,” recalled Fass.
The girl, Batsheva, eventually became Fass’s wife, and the two served as advisors for New Jersey NCSY after they married. Later they moved to Florida, where Fass became the associate rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue and the director of the Helen Julius Institute of Judaic Studies. After his cousin, Naftali Lanzkron, z”l, was murdered in 2001 by a terrorist in Israel, Fass made an important decision.
“I felt compelled to stand in Naftali’s stead and move to Israel together with my family,” said Fass. “When I discussed my plan, it became clear that there were thousands of other people who wanted to make aliyah but were held back because of certain daunting obstacles.”
Together with Tony Gelbart, a Florida businessman, Fass founded NBN to make a home in Israel a reality for those who dreamed to live there. Since the organization’s creation in 2002, nearly 40,000 people have made aliyah with NBN’s resources, support and encouragement. Fass and his wife live in Beit Shemesh with their seven children.
“NCSY’s emphasis on Israel and Zionism fit naturally with how I was raised,” said Fass. “My upbringing had Israel as a central part of our religious and national identity, and NCSY was a natural complement to that.”
While NCSY’s effects of inspiring teens in the Jewish community in America are well-known, fewer know the significance NCSY has had on Jewish families and individuals who decided to take the leap and live their lives in Israel.
For Atara Eis, originally of Sharon, MA, the turning point was after graduating high school. But, she says, it was the emotional and spiritual experiences she enjoyed as an NCSYer that really imbued her with a deep love for the State of Israel.
“My involvement with NCSY prepared me for the frame of mind that is necessary to make such a huge, life-altering change like aliyah,” said Eis. “NCSY also taught me what a central role we all must play in shaping the Jewish destiny.”
Eis spent two summers as a madricha (counselor) on Michlelet, an NCSY summer program in Israel, which increased her desire to one day live in Israel. She also credits the leadership opportunities at NCSY — she held various positions on her chapter board, served as Yachad coordinator for New England NCSY in her senior year of high school, and taught shiur (class) at Morasha Yachad for two summers — for training her to become a leader.
Eis married her husband Rafi in 2003, and during a two-year stint living in Israel after finishing their studies at Yeshiva University, Eis studied at Nishmat to become a yoetzet halacha, an expert in the laws of family purity. Upon their move back to the US, they taught at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia and Eis also served as a yoetzet for women and directed Nishmat’s U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellowship. She continues to direct that program now that they and their four children have made the permanent move back to Israel. “The Jewish people have yearned to live here for thousands of years, and I am so happy I have the gift of raising my children here,” she said.
One of Eis’s former teachers at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY), Rabbi David Katz, is a former NCSY superstar whose move to Israel was also largely inspired by NCSY.
Katz grew up in Bogota, NJ, and his family was one of three Jewish families in the entire town. “I grew up in a Conservative home, and aside from my parents’ involvement in their synagogue and basic traditions, we didn’t really observe much,” explained Katz. “However, after my fourth summer at Camp Ramah, I really liked the idea of becoming more Jewishly involved.”
Katz switched from public school to The Moriah School, where many of his peers and friends were involved with NCSY. “I quickly found that I loved the whole NCSY experience,” he said. When his teacher invited him to spend Shavuot at her home, Katz — then in fifth grade — was sold. “When my parents picked me up, my teacher asked them when they’re moving to Teaneck, and we all laughed,” recalled Katz. “But that summer, I got a letter at camp from my parents telling me they had just bought a home in Teaneck so I could become more involved with NCSY.”
And involved he became. Katz held various leadership roles in NCSY, including serving on both regional and national board. During his freshman year at Yeshiva University, he was a chapter advisor and organized NCSY Shabbatons.
“NCSY just couldn’t get rid of me,” laughed Katz.
In 1989, Katz made aliyah and he credits NCSY with helping him make that decision. Back in the summer of 1982, Katz participated in an NCSY summer program called Leadership Training Institute. Despite the country being at war, administrators pushed the program ahead. “We all heard shelling as we ushered in Shabbat in Tzfat, but I remember the feeling of joy and unity I got from singing Yedid Nefesh with my peers, and having the neighbors sing along with us as they passed by,” recalled Katz. “The experience made me convinced that Israel was my true home.”
Katz co-founded MMY in 1996 for women who desired serious learning opportunities and spiritual growth in Israel. Though this meant he had to officially step back from NCSY after a 22-year career, Katz still lectures at NCSY programs in Israel and returns to NJ each year to attend Regionals.
Fifty years after her first NCSY event, Judith Spanglet, a senior supervisor at Ben Gurion University and co-director of the organization Connections and Links – From Trauma to Resilience, continues to visit NCSY summer programs in Israel and she still gets together with Dr. David Luchins, her former advisor, to reminisce.
Spanglet joined NCSY when she was twelve years old as an opportunity to meet other religious kids. However, as the years went by, NCSY became more than a social activity — it gave her a sense of meaning and purpose.
Spanglet became an NCSY advisor while attending Stern College. “NCSY was the reason I became religious and wanted to be a part of the Jewish people. It made me want to go on and find more,” she explained. The summer after her freshman year, Spanglet traveled to Israel with her family and instantly knew she belonged. “After visiting Israel and being surrounded by other Jews, I found my home,” Spanglet said. The following year, Judith boarded a plane, officially embarking on her aliyah journey.
Even today, NCSY is still a part of so many things Spanglet does. From raising five children in Israel to running Connections and Links and giving presentations across Europe on coping with stress and traumatic reactions, the values she learned from NCSY continue to shine through.
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