Teaneck expat to lead NCSY

Teaneck expat to lead NCSY

Rabbi Benovitz named youth group’s international managing director

A Teaneck expat who now lives in Israel has been named managing director of International NCSY, the Orthodox Union’s youth movement, as the organization enters its 62nd year.

Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, the longtime director of the summer program NCSY Kollel in Israel, will supervise NCSY’s activities throughout the world. He will work in cooperation with NCSY’s Chicago-based international director, Rabbi Micah Greenland, and its New York-based associate international director, Keevy Fried.

Globally, NCSY has about 150 employees and 500 volunteer advisers in North America, Israel, Germany, Chile, and Argentina. Its ongoing programs reach approximately 16,000 teenagers; and 14 different NCSY summer programs in the United States, Europe, and Israel attract a total of about 1,000 participants.

Rabbi Moshe Benovitz
Rabbi Moshe Benovitz

Rabbi Benovitz began his relationship with NCSY as a high school student in the 1980s. “I’ve been involved, without any breaks, as participant, adviser, administrator, director of summer programs, and in broader national appointments, ever since,” he said.

Soon to turn 43, the Teaneck-raised rabbi earned his B.A. in psychology and his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, both at Yeshiva University. For the past 12½ years, he and his family have lived in Ramat Bet Shemesh, where he teaches at Yeshivat Reishit, a post-high-school program for Orthodox boys from abroad.

“Doing this job for NCSY from Israel is exciting for me,” Rabbi Benovitz said. “It’s about bringing Jewish communities together and creating an organizational mentality of cohesion. Israel and Israel education play a role as well, but it’s more about bridging gaps.”

From his vantage point of nearly 30 years with the organization, he says that the goals of NCSY remain mostly unchanged, although it has broadened from a synagogue-based movement to a community-based one. In fact, the original name, National Conference of Synagogue Youth, has been changed formally; it is now simply NCSY.

“NCSY was created to inspire more passionate Jewish commitment and leadership, and that’s still very much true,” Rabbi Benovitz said. “The methodologies changed over the years, of course, because the challenges are somewhat different and the modes of engagement are different.”

In some regions, NCSY focuses more on public school students; in others, the focus is on day school students. “We have a strong commitment to providing ever-new opportunities for engagement for both constituencies,” he said.

“When dealing with youth, if you’re not innovating you’re not going to be successful. In the past year we have made a significant investment in pilot projects that encourage our regions to engage in innovation and provide funding for the most innovative projects, for example programs geared to underserved populations or social-action-oriented missions. And you can’t talk about working with youth and not speak about social media and digital platforms, so that is obviously high on the priority list.”

During this year’s annual NCSY Yarchei Kallah — five-day study retreats for public-school teens across the country during their winter break — NCSY’s international director of education, Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, who lives in Teaneck, introduced a partnership with Aleph Beta Academy, a nonprofit website dedicated to learning Torah in a fun and relevant way.

“For teens without a brick-and-mortar Jewish education, an online platform like Aleph Beta becomes even more important,” Rabbi Benovitz said.

He sees NCSY’s main strengths as “giving young people a chance to lead and giving them opportunities for expression that not every formal education environment will provide for them,” he said. “That informal nature has always been the hallmark of NCSY. You’re dealing with apathy as much as any other barrier to religious commitment, so that level of leadership training and expression matter a lot.”

He will continue recruiting kids for all NCSY summer programs and leading NCSY Kollel, a position he has held since 2000. NCSY Kollel offers half a day of interactive learning and half a day of competitive basketball, hockey, football, softball, and soccer.

Rabbi Benovitz noted that the summer camps have experienced “extraordinary growth” under the leadership of David Cutler, and the number of participants is expected to double to 2,000 in the coming years.

“The summer programs are about taking positive mentoring, role models, leadership training — the building blocks of what has made NCSY successful — and applying them in an expanded way,” he said. “We get a tremendous response from three crucial constituencies — teens, parents, and partner institutions — because they understand the value of these programs. Our numbers are steady or up, even with the situation in Israel, and that happens because we’ve earned the trust and confidence of the community.”

Before moving to Israel, Rabbi Benovitz worked on Long Island; he was the director of student activities at the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, part of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (DRS/HALB) in Woodmere. He also taught at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA) at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan as well as the Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth.

“Rabbi Benovitz is an insightful and experienced Jewish leader and educator, whom I have long admired for his wisdom and commitment to the Jewish people,” Rabbi Greenland said. “The opportunity to promote him to a position of greater influence in NCSY is a truly exciting one, and he is already having a tremendous impact on the professionals with whom he is working most closely.”

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