Eighteen-year Shifra Dimbert knew she was a candidate for a college scholarship. But she never expected to win “the full package.”
The Teaneck resident, a recipient of the 2020 Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander Scholarship from Touro College and the Orthodox Union, said, “I am a leader in the NCSY community, so I knew I was in the running.” But she never took for granted that she would get it, despite her record of service to NCSY and her creative leadership on both the local and national level.
That kind of modesty is evident throughout her entire period of service to the youth organization.
“My sister dragged me to my first Shabbaton,” she said. “I had no idea what I was getting into, but I fell in love with the community. It opened my eyes to the Jewish community I’m part of, a different side than [you see] in school.” The scholarship recipient was a student at the Frisch High School. [While NCSY claimed a good part of her time, Shifra also found time to play soccer, and appear in several Frisch student productions.]
“My sophomore year I joined the Teaneck Chapter board, as president of the education committee.” Every Thursday night, she said, she brought in a guest speaker to teach Torah. “They came from organizations representing different interests, from Israel to Yachad,” for which she volunteered. The next year, she participated in LEAD, “a special leadership program for juniors who would serve on the regional board the following year. They prepped me for my role.” That meant learning basic leadership skills like public speaking, pitching an idea, and learning to listen to the ideas of others.
In addition, she helped build a house, and taught at a nondenominational Jewish school. “At the end of the year, we went to AIPAC. We had the freedom to choose the sessions we were interested in to get the most out of the program.”
“In my senior year the regional director gave me an application and said, ‘Fill this out.’ I didn’t know what it was.” It was, in fact, the document that got her chosen to be the 2020 national NCSY president. “I thought I botched the interview. I was so distracted, I didn’t know what I was saying.” Still, last summer, she became the president of the national board.
“One of the [application] essays asked, ‘what is your goal?’ Sometimes there’s a huge disconnect, especially in Teaneck, between kids who go to private and public schools. You can see a divide between kids.” Indeed, she said, for some public school students, NCSY events “provided their first experience lighting Shabbat candles. And in the Midwest, public schools outnumber private. I said I wanted to help find a connection, to build a bridge to connect everyone.”
One thing they needed was “better communication. One of my favorite programs was the interregional learning program, pairing people from different regions. We put together a source sheet, in English and Hebrew. It was for Purim and [explored] how it is to stand up and admit you’re Jewish. How being Jewish is part of your identity. We got great feeback. Even now, some chevrutas [study partners] have stayed together.” Participants choose whether to pair with yeshiva or public school students.
Shifra hopes that the skills she has learned will stand her in good stead. “I’m thankful for the leadership training and the leadership opportunities I’ve had,” she said. Formerly nervous about public speaking, “My greatest accomplishment has been gaining confidence and learning how to interact with many different people and bring them together.”
She has also learned that “If someone offers you a leadership position, don’t be nervous. They see something in you. Take it on with both hands.” She did not see it in herself, she said, but is grateful that others did. “You should be proud of who you are…and definitely embody it in day to day life. Run with it.”
The outgoing NCSY national president fully intends to remain involved in the organization as a Judah fellow, the organization’s next level engagement initiative. When she returns to the U.S. to begin college, she may also look to become a regional adviser, noting that “those who have gone through the program make the best advisers. It’s a way to stay connected.”
And what will she study? “I’m interested in biology because I like to see how things interact,” she said. “It completely shows how Hashem is involved in every area of life.”
In addition to Shifra, this year’s scholarship recipients are Yael Gonzalez of Schenectady, NY; Indigo (Nishama) Paris, of Portland, OR; and Hannah Thiede of Chesterfield, MO. The scholarships, in memory of Touro’s founding president, the late Dr. Bernard Lander and his wife, Sarah Rivkah, were announced by Touro President and CEO Dr. Alan Kadish and Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane.
“These young adults represent the future leaders of the Jewish community,” said President Bane. “Throughout their experience in NCSY, they have exemplified leadership and we are proud to help invest in their futures.”