|At NCSY’s international Yarchei Kallah, Tova Sklar of Bergenfield is flanked by Shani Weis of Hillside and Liat Clark of Teaneck. NCSY/OU|
Tova Sklar of Bergenfield, 17, recently became the first national NCSY president from New Jersey in a decade.
But two years ago, she had not yet even gotten involved in the youth movement, a program of the Orthodox Union.
Now a senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, Tova’s first experience with NCSY came from a 2012 relief mission in to New Orleans, led by New Jersey NCSY’s director, Rabbi Ethan Katz.
“I always knew about NCSY, but I didn’t think it was it was for me,” she said. “I learned about the relief mission at school, and I honestly didn’t even know it was sponsored by NCSY until I went on it.”
Once there, she had the opportunity to meet girls her age, public school students who were involved in such NCSY programs as Jewish Student Union clubs, Teen Torah Center at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, Latte and Learning in Hackensack’s Riverside Square, summer programs, and regional conventions.
“Rabbi Katz suggested I come back for more events,” Tova said. “I discovered that NCSY is not only about Shabbatons.”
What she discovered is that “everyone has a different experience in NCSY,” but what is common to all participants is this: “Everyone needs a spark of inspiration that carries them through.”
Tova is well suited to providing inspiration. “I think I’m able to relate to a lot of people and that helps me connect,” she said. “I’m not afraid to get up and say something in front of a crowd. I’m a generally cheerful person and I love Judaism.”
She has a particular passion for biblical studies, which has been growing since her elementary-school years at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey.
Tova already had been involved in Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, and last summer she had a fellowship at a Yachad sleepaway camp. Through the Friendship Circle program, directed by Rabbi Moshe and Zeesy Grossbaum of the Paramus Chabad Center, Tova visits a child with Down syndrome in her Bergenfield neighborhood every Shabbat so the girl’s parents can get some rest.
“Tova’s leadership qualities stood out during New Orleans,” Rabbi Katz said. On that trip, NCSYers from New Jersey built houses with Habitat for Humanity. “There was no question she was going to rise up the ranks.”
The following year, Tova was recruited for New Jersey NCSY’s Leadership Experience and Development program – LEAD – a pipeline leadership program created by Rabbi Katz. The selected teens join for a variety of activities and team-building exercises, including working with Habitat for Humanity; developing a Jewish curriculum for a Jewish school in Buffalo, N.Y.; staffing NCSY Shabbatons, and attending the national AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Successful graduates of LEAD are eligible to become part of New Jersey NCSY’s regional board the following year.
The team’s work in Buffalo was especially eye-opening for Tova, because the LEAD fellows became role models for many of the students.
“I met a bunch of public-school students who were struggling to keep Shabbat, and all this time I had taken for granted how easy it was for me to keep it,” she said. “Seeing how they were so devoted made me realize how fortunate I am and made me more motivated in my own Judaism.”
At Leadership Boot Camp, an invitation-only Shabbaton held over the summer where teen leaders of NCSY plan for the year ahead, NCSY’s international director, Rabbi Micah Greenland, asked Tova if she would be willing to take on the national presidency.
“Tova is an extraordinary role model, from whom all of us in NCSY – her peers, as well as staff members, from all backgrounds – can learn a great deal,” Rabbi Greenland said.
The second oldest of Joy and Barry Sklar’s five children, Tova said she hopes to “bring ideas for programs and propose a lot of ideas,” such as a national NCSY day of learning and good deeds, as well as further augmenting NCSY’s online programs including a study-partner platform.
“I want to be able to meet as many people my age as I can, and I really want to be able to spread my love of Torah to other people,” she said.