When a teen experiences the beauty of a Jewish way of life, often our staff doesn’t have the privilege of seeing “the rest of the story.”
Vika, Aaron, and Max remind us just how far a teen can go when he or she experiences Jewish connection and meaning in a powerful way.
We hope you enjoy their stories. Mazel tov!
“I knew I was Jewish in the sense that my parents dealt with antisemitism in the Ukraine,” says Vika, “but I didn’t have a real connection.”
That Shabbat Shabang led to others, as well as to Latte & Learns and, ultimately, a transformative summer experience in Israel on TJJ.
But when Vika returned home to Buffalo Grove, IL, she didn’t know how she would hold onto the inspiration she had felt in Israel.
She began by lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night. Then she became increasingly involved in NCSY, attending as many events as she could, joining the Northshore chapter board and attending regional Shabbatons.
“I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get to a point where I’d feel comfortable dressing modestly in my public school or keeping kosher,” recalls Vika, “but these were things that were really important to me and that I wanted to work toward.”
And Vika did work toward them.
After high school, Vika attended Yeshiva University and started giving back by serving as an NCSY advisor and working for NCSY’s Alumni Department.
In June Vika, now 22, celebrated her marriage to Max Cantor of Frederick, MD.
“There’s no way I’d be religious or even connected to Judaism today without NCSY,” Vika says.
Watch Vika’s story here.
Aaron joined Minneapolis Junior NCSY back in 2010 with close friend Max Segal (see below.) He participated in hundreds of NCSY events throughout his years at St. Louis Park High School, ranging from JSU clubs and Shabbat meals, to Lunch & Learns and Dinner & Learns, to regional Shabbatons and a summer trip to Israel.
“NCSY has played such a massive role in my life,” says Aaron. “They truly helped shape into the person I am today.”
But what most impacted Aaron was not the programs – it was the people.
“I have so many amazing role models, friends, and rebbeim that I met over the years who became some of the closest people in my life, many of whom I am still very much in touch with today,” Aaron says.
Prime among them was Rabbi Tzvi Kupfer, former Minneapolis NCSY/JSU Director.
“One of my proudest moments was just recently at my wedding,” says Aaron. “After being part of NCSY pretty much my whole life, Rabbi Tzvi Kupfer, our chapter rabbi at the time, officiated at my wedding. This was such a special moment because Tzvi played a huge role to help get me where I am today.”
After his wedding, Aaron and his wife, Ellie Winkler of Staten Island, moved to Long Island, and Aaron is working as a sales rep for Keser Royal Wine.
And he says that none of it would have been possible without NCSY.
“If it weren’t for NCSY I may have never gone to Israel to study in Yeshiva after high school.
“If it weren’t for NCSY I may have never grown religiously and spiritually.
“If it weren’t for NCSY I may have never moved to New York and met my wife,” says Aaron. “I owe so much to this amazing organization.”
“I was just 11 years old when I went on my first Shabbaton,” recalls Max, “and from then on NCSY changed my life forever.”
Max, together with his close friend Aaron Burton (see above), was a regular at NCSY events throughout junior high and his high school years at St. Louis Park School.
And like Aaron, Max says his passion for Judaism was ignited by NCSY’s staff.
“It was amazing to meet people who I could connect to who were also so passionate and inspired by their Yiddishkeit [Judaism],” says Max.
So how did Max end up in the Mir Yeshiva?
“Now, almost seven years later, I’m still here in Israel, married [and] spending my time learning,” says Max, who married Yaeli Adar of Brooklyn earlier this summer.
Physical distance hasn’t kept Max from staying connected to NCSY. He speaks to his NCSY friends and advisor on an almost weekly basis.
“The incredible staff and the friends I made on NCSY made it possible for me to become who I am today,” he
These stories, and so many others, are only possible thanks to the generous support of community members like you. Thank you!