Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Shoresh and NCSY

I have many individuals and organizations to thank for helping me along my path in becoming a Torah Jew. Without a doubt, two organizations that helped me the most were Camp Shoresh and NCSY. I will assume for now that most of those reading this are familiar with both organizations; if not, I have linked to both.

I was recently thinking about organizations I support, both on a personal and financial level, and I realized that while I support Shoresh, I am no longer involved in NCSY. After some thinking, it became clear that while I never had an official falling out with the organization or those involved with it, there must've been some sort of progression in which my views on Kiruv and their views were no longer in line. I will try as best as possible to coherently spell out a couple of (my) perceived differences between NCSY and Shoresh, and why I no longer have a relationship with NCSY but maintain one with Shoresh. (Disclaimer: I will make generalizations which in reality, may just have been my experiences in the organizations)

Focus on the group vs. the individual

  • NCSY - Because NCSY is mainly something that has 3-4 Shabbatonim a year, there is much less time to create a cohesive a group. Therefore, the focus is much more on the individual; not to say that this is all bad. As non-frum kids gain interest in being frum, they do need this individual attention. However, my focus here is mainly on the frum kids who participate in NCSY. Because NCSY exists for the non-frum kids (I firmly believe this), the attention is given most to these kids, leaving the frum kids with less attention and supervision. These frum children are often on very rigorous day-school schedules, and an NCSY Shabbaton can be viewed by them as their "time off". We would hope that the frum kids would have a positive effect on the non-frum, but often times this isn't the case, as the non-frum kids catch the frum kids during an "off time" religiously. If someone could tell me what good NCSY does for frum kids, I'd be all ears. It should be noted here that I have heard the analogy between the Parah Adumah and NCSY - haMaven Yavin.
  • Shoresh - It could be argued: but why doesn't the same thing happen at Shoresh? I believe that it is because Shoresh does it's best to instill a sense of family (corny, yes, I know). Sure, there is individual attention given when necessary, but because of outward efforts and the fact that it is an everyday, 6-week camp, the individual feels a part of something bigger than just their personal endeavors. When the frum children are able to internalize this sense of group and of family, I believe they are less likely to view camp time as "off time", at least entirely.

Where they fall on the religious continuum

  • NCSY - I believe that NCSY falls a bit more to the right on the religious continuum than Shoresh does. At the spiritual helm of the Atlantic Seaboard region of NCSY is Rabbi Yitzchak Dinovitzer: a truly holy, learned man - a real hayliga neshama. However, there is no question that he is very frum. For me, I always viewed his level of religiosity as unattainable. I also felt that his level was unattainable, because I've never heard a step-by-step approach (which, in my opinion, is the only way to go) endorsed by NCSY. It is hard to imagine oneself attaining R' Dinovitzer's level without looking at the individual steps along the way.
  • Shoresh - At the spiritual helm of Shoresh are Rabbis David Finkelstein and Asher Stein. While I knew they were orthodox, they were people I could relate to and I never felt that I couldn't one day reach their level. Rabbi Dave's interests in baseball or it cracking jokes may cause a stir among some, but it was precisely these types of things that made him seem normal to me. Rabbi Stein and Eitan G's "Hanz and Franz" (I want to pump, YOU up) probably wouldn't go over well in a Beis Medrash, but these were things that I could relate to. Also, Shoresh openly endorses a step-by-step progression in frumkeit. They realize that just throwing a kid in a day school may turn him/her off and that a better approach is to take things one step at a time. In Shoresh, it's always about one more thing today or tomorrow, not about doing it all right now.

There are a lack of normal, mainstream Baalei Teshuvah. The bottom line is that a quick scan through my mind reveals that an overwhelming percentage of normal Baalei Teshuva that I know went through Shoresh. I believe the goal of Kiruv should be to mainstream Baalei Teshuva into normal, mainstream orthodoxy. Shoresh accomplishes goal, in my opinion, far more often than NCSY - and that is why I will continue to offer support to Shoresh, but not NCSY.


Blogger Lanie said...

I obviously have a lot to say about this subject matter, but I'm interested to see what kind of conversation this post sparks.

8:05 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous Elise said...

Very interesting post. I was just talking to someone about "normal" Baalei Teshuva.

8:26 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous peninah said...

Well, you know my opinions on this since we had this discussion in carpool (I feel like a little kid when I say that). I think that the "sense of family" that shoresh offers is even on a greater level. they are reaching out to families: not just kids. As we discussed, my one major issue with NCSY is that they are trying to be mekarev kids.

First of all, I don't think that kids have enough cognitive capacity to make the appropriate judgements on whether they want to make major lifestyle and religious changes. Especially since the primary method for being mekarev these kids is completely emotional and not really rational.

Second, often times, the assumption is that the organization knows what is better for the kids than their parents do. It really irks me that NCSY will often make a reference to parents (for instance in an awards speech) that will say something like "they were shomer shabbos and switched schools even though their parents were opposed to it.". Just because a kids parents aren't orthodox does not mean that they a)don't make morally sound decisions for their children or b)have the right to be undermined when it comes to the child's religiosity.

I will take a bit of umbrage on the para aduma assumption. As a frum kid who grew up going to NCSY from 5th grade all the way to being regional president, I think I have a bit of experience in this area. I don't know what NCSY is like now, but when I was a kid, I definitely didn't view it as my "time off", in fact growing up through the yeshiva system, NCSY often provided me with the spiritual high I didn't get in my day to day life. That; however, still does not change my opinions on the organization as a whole.

True, there always were frum kids in NCSY who were "off the derech" but usually, NCSY was just one of the stops down, it wasn't the cause of their issues.

Finally, as unfair as it might be, I think I developed a lot of these thoughts when the whole R' Lanner thing came to light. It is very hard to look at an organization the same way when everything you ever knew about it has been stripped away from you.

8:47 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger Lanie said...

Okay, well, enough holding back for me.

I agree with Peninah. Shoresh and NCSY have different goals. If you ask Dave Finkelstein what the goal of Shoresh is he'll tell you, "we want our kids to marry Jewish." Of course they're ectatic when people decide to become more observant, but that's not the goal.

There was a time in my life when I really thought NCSY was "it" for me. I loved, loved, loved when Shabbos ebbs away, and havdalah. Why? Because those were emotional experiences. How can you not feel emotionally drawn to something when the rabbi gets up and cries every time? I left Shabbatons feeling so strongly about wanting to be religious and take on more in my Judaism. That feeling slowly waned over the next 3-4 months when I didn't talk to anyone in NCSY until it was time for another Shabbaton, and the feeling came back. Even by 12th grade I had figured out the game and had no interest in it. I remember being at the award banquet at Spring Regional in 12th grade thinking, "get me out of here."

Also, I 100% agree with Peninah about the issue of NCSY undermining parents. As someone who is now a parent myself, I think that I would find myself quite concerned if my child went away for a weekend retreat and came home 4 days later wanting to totally change his life. These parents are made out to be the bad guys who aren't religious, and obviously don't know as much about the children that they've spent the past 14 - 17 years raising as the people in NCSY who see them for a combined total of a week a year. I'm not surprised that many parents consider it cult-like behavior.

Shoresh is a whole family organization where growth is not confined to individuals. Truthfully, I don't even think it's a fair comparison because the 2 organizations are so vastly different.

9:20 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

I dont see your distinctions at all. I know many Shoresh kids that jumped from public school into Ner Yisrael. I know lots of NCSY kids who moved gradually into religious life. And the reverse is true. I also think Shoresh contaiminates the pure just as much (if not more so) than NCSY.

10:03 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

I yearn for the day that I can please you with a post. My emphasis is not on individual kids, but on the emphasis of the organizations. Shoresh clearly emphasizes the step-by-step approach more than NCSY does (if they do at all). Sure, certain NCSY kids may gradually become frum, but I would argue that it is something about their personality that caused them to do so, not NCSY. I would be interested in who you are referring to when you say that you know "many" kids that make the jump from public school to Ner. I'm all ears.

10:15 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous peninah said...

I keep telling Greg not to be rude to you in his comments, I don't want you turning against the Gershman family and oh, for example, stop driving one of us to work...

10:20 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

I suppose I won't use "Ishto K'Gufo" in this case.

10:23 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous peninah said...

Thanks. If people used Ishto K'gufo with us, I'd have lost a lot of friends by now (your sister included).

10:24 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

Ah, no lacking in controversy on this blog. Obviously, any generalizations will be met with criticism. However, a lot of your points are valid. Shoresh makes great efforts to reach out to entire families, and it has ongoing programs year round to maintain momentum. Like you say, the rabbis are very laid back and "normal", most people feel they can relate to them. The problems with NCSY are well documented. I do tend to agree with Greg somewhat that the issue of frum kids' involvemnt and the negative influences they may get exist with Shoresh as well. There are some kids/counselors who go to Shoresh and experience things and people that they wouldn't be exposed to otherwise. This is not necessarily always a bad thing, but sometimes the level of intimacy that can develop between the genders is not something I think we should be interested in. In a coed camp, it's bound to happen. I wouldn't change Shoresh, but I think it must be recognized that if one chooses to use the parah adumah analogy, it applies to Shoresh as well as NCSY.

11:17 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Hmm, maybe I am being nieve in thinking that Shoresh isn't a Parah Adumah...although I would like to think that it is to a lesser extent. I feel like nowadays with more Rambamers going to Shoresh, the "frum" kids are maybe less frum they have been previously, which may mean they are desensitized to a greater degree to that which they will be exposed to by the non-frum crowd. Who knows.

11:28 AM, May 02, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

Was I being rude? I didn't think so. I apologize if I was. I have limited amounts of time and therefore must make my statements as direct as possible. All of your posts are pleasing in my eyes. Whenever one makes generalizations, however, you open yourself up to the inevitable exception case arguments.

I probably didn't mean "many," but still, I would consider someone going from public school to yeshiva high a big jump as well, which, as I recall, happened quite a few times.

I will add that when I switched from public school to HA, I had a hard time understanding the MO lifestyle, as I was unfamiliar with it; had I switched to a more "right-wing" establishment, I would have been more comfortable (perhaps, although maybe not); I also at times looked at JDS, and know other NCSY'ers who went from public school to Beth Tfiloh, and found this to be inadequate. Would a gradual progression be best if the person is not prepared for what he/she will experience in that different environment. So maybe it's not a question of what is the right thing, but what will the person be comfortable in.

11:39 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

No beef. I like to pretend I have thinner skin than I really do.

11:55 AM, May 02, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

Alanlaz - Can't we just say "different strokes for different folks?" Why do we have to put one organization down in relation to another? You could improperly compare many things this way. Many kids become frum through NCSCY, many kids become frum through Shoresh. Maybe some kids wouldn't like one organization, but they would like the other one.

6:22 PM, May 02, 2006

Blogger Opinions said...

I think that strong arguments in favor of either organization can be made. NCSY spends significantly less per person then Shoresh and therefore arguably gets much more bang for the buck. Shoresh is better suited to impact an entire family which allows an individually interested in becoming more involved and observant and easier transition. This also fosters an environment where an individual can grow and more easily maintain their new found responsibilities. I don’t think either is the optimum place for those coming from frum families with solid groundings. That does not mean every frum person is adversely effected (some gain a much deeper appreciation) it just means they are playing with fire. The coed natures create a dangerous playground for teens looking to push the envelope.

NCSY in smaller cities operates somewhere in between the Shoresh and NCSY Baltimore. I have been involved in some shape or form with NCSY and Shoresh for about 28 years (not that I actually did anything way back then). In smaller cities NCSY is much more then 3-4 shabbatons a year. They had events about every month, people used to regularly come to our house for shabbos, and my “big sister” now is Assistant Director of Shoresh. I think the world has enough needs that both organizations have plenty of opportunities to exist and accomplish without overlapping. I try to support both because I believe thinking about what they don’t do rather then what they actual do accomplish is the wrong perspective. I have worked in both and have seen their tremendous accomplishments.

Bear with me for this story or skip this paragraph if you are not interested in the story! The Chofetz Chaim told of a man who went through a town on his travels and stopped in a village. He asked for a drink of water and was given a cup that had sand and dirt in the water. He was told this was all they had. He then proceeded to teach them how to filter it through a cloth to produce a clean glass of water. He then proceeded on his trip. On his return trip he again stopped in the village and saw it had burned down. He asked what happened and was told that a small fire started. It took so long to filter the water the fire spread and burned down the village. He told them, when you have all the time in the world you filter the water but when a fire is raging you through whatever you have clean or dirty to put out the fire. He used this mushal to explain kiruv in his time and even more so nowadays. Is either a perfect organization, possibly not, but with assimilation ravishing the jewish world let’s take what we can get.

10:11 PM, May 02, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Opinions - thank you for the opinion, I thought you had run out of them! I really like the CC mashel. I'd be interested to find out how NCSY/Shoresh is really affecting kids.

Jack - sure, different strokes for different folks - NCSY just isn't my stroke.

4:08 AM, May 03, 2006

Blogger TorahYouth said...


I am not going to comment on either organization. However, I would like to inform your readership that we have formed an organization that is geared to the religious kids for the very reasons that you give on your post. The name is torah youth, and you can learn more on torahyouth.org (the site is being updated so bare with the 2005 dates).

I would be interested to find out if you would like to help with any events etc...

Gavi Cohn

10:48 PM, May 15, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Gavi - thanks for the info. If I had as much time do to do all of the things I am supposed to, I would help - but ain li zman. Nice website.

7:52 AM, May 16, 2006

Blogger TorahYouth said...


It is Gavi.
If you can take the little bit of time you have and spread the word, I would appreciate it.

4:35 PM, May 16, 2006

Anonymous Rachel said...

First things first, I think you might want to clarify that you are talking about NCSY atlantic seaboard region, because as an advisor heavily involved in the Midwest region, my opions differ.

As someone involved in Shoresh as staff previously, the messages of both Shoresh and NCSY Jrs. (all the kids in elementry school) have the same theme- "be cool, be Jewish". On the other hand, I think the focus on growing and on Yiddishkeit is much more intense in NCSY (again, I'm talking about the Midwest region), rather than day-to-day American obsession with pop culture like I have seen at Shoresh. It could totally be because pop-culture is more dominant in the summer, but I found that more time was spent caught up in that, rather than the intensity of the feeling that you are at a shabbaton to be inspired.

Maybe the difference is that the NCSY-ers in the Midwest of mostly in public school or the frum "poster" kids in NCSY (super shtark regional board kids). Also the advisors in the Midwest region all act in according to Halacha and Torah Hashkafah, even when they are not at shabbatons, so perhaps the kids have good role models to maintain relationships with.

Or that growing little by little is stressed which is something easier to grasp and work with over a period of a year, rather over an intense 6 weeks, when half the time is spent flirting with fellow campers.

I think the newest attempt to "get" the NCSYers not to go off to college and forget everything they strived for, by opening a seminary is not only genius, but I think will help them become mainstream long term.

ok just my opinion, I know both Shoresh and NCSY have done AMAZING THINGS!!!!!!!

8:00 PM, June 06, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Rachel, Thanks for your comments. If you've been involved with Shoresh, then you probably know me - I'm a real old schooler. Anyway, after talking with some people, it appears that what is going on in the Midwest NCSY is much different from that which I experienced in the Atlantic Seaboard region.

I think both NCSY and Shoresh emphasize "Be Cool Be Jewish". That being said, since NCSY mainly operates at Shabbatonim, I believe it is harder for an NCSYer to make the jump from being Jewish at a Shabbaton to being Jewish on a daily basis. I think that when you are involved in a summer camp, even when half of the time may be spent flirting with other campers, they learn to be Jewish in all settings - even when flirting with those of the opposite sex.

Finally, Shoresh openly supports a little by little approach, and have heard those exact words said during various meetings and trips. With NCSY, a kid is viewed as a success when they make the jump from public to Jewish day school - that is certainly not a step by step approach.

9:52 AM, June 07, 2006

Anonymous George Weiss said...

arnt we forgetting that most/ a lot of ballay teshuva from shoresh were also involved in ncsy? how many non ncsy shoreshers do you know (who latr became baal teshuva)

makes it hard to make distinctions.
i agreee with greg.

1:38 AM, July 11, 2006


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