Identity, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

NCSY Hysteria

Nearly 20 years, 9 addresses, and 3 states later, NCSY has found me. Ironically enough, I belonged to NCSY for one year long ago, mostly because the USY chapter in my town represented a gathering of some of the meanest and most cliquish kids I’d ever met. However, my NCSY tenure was brief. Even back then I was asking too many questions about women and Judaism and egalitarianism.
I hadn’t thought about the experience in years, when all of a sudden a few months ago I started receiving mail from NCSY at my current address (again, 9 addresses and 3 states removed from my NCSY days!). They all start “Dear NCSY Alumnus…” and end by asking for money. The tone of the letters has become increasingly ridiculous, as evidenced by the letter I received at the beginning of this week. Here are two excerpts:

Today’s average Jewish public school teen believes Israel really belongs to the Palestinians and that the stories of the Holocaust are greatly exaggerated. Needless to say, they date non-Jews almost exclusively.

Once they’re out of high school, we’ll never be able to find them, and their children may never know that they’re Jewish.

The hyberbole is striking. As someone else who saw this letter remarked to me, in two sentences NCSY manages to manipulate the Holy Trinity of the Jewish community’s fears (Israel, the Holocaust, and the existence of Jewish babies). The text also implies a direct connection between one’s politics on Israel/one’s knowledge of the Holocaust and one’s choice of romantic partner, as if someone with different ideas about Israel will, “needless to say,” wind up partnered with a non-Jew. (I’m not sure that my acquaintances are a representative sample, but virtually all the post- or non-Zionists I know are active, religious Jews who are in– or seeking to be in– relationships with other Jews.)
Anyway, even if the above statements were all true, I’m still not interested in giving money to an organization whose pedagogical goals seem to include fostering a totally uncritical support for Israel, basing one’s Jewish identity on the Holocaust and victimization (anyone remember those tearful NCSY seudah shelishits?), and producing Jewish children early and often simply for the sake of producing Jewish children (and not, say, for the sake of the good those Jewish children might do in the world).
Please, before you jump down my throat, let me be clear: Israel is very important to me, I believe all Jews should be competently educated about the Holocaust in specific and genocide in general, and I also believe that Jewish babies should continue to thrive. However, using hyperbolic scare tactics to catalyze people into giving to an organization like NCSY is doing really annoys me. It’s the same thing Chabad often does, and it’s one of the reasons that lots of secular Jews, many of whom don’t give to other Jewish causes that more represent their values, give to Chabad.

7 thoughts on “NCSY Hysteria

  1. Ncsy (as you quote) “Once they’re out of high school, we’ll never be able to find them, and their children may never know that they’re Jewish.”
    I think you’re hating b/c ncsy found you after all these years and many moves.

  2. As a former NCSY president, I feel I should drop a couple cents here. What’s fascinating is that, at least in my day, the things you discussed here weren’t part of NCSY programming at all. Back then I was far more Zionist than I am today, and it was also Israel’s 50th Anniversary, yet despite that, the administration resisted any zionist initiatives that I raised.
    As for the Holocaust, I only remember one small Holocaust program that a local Rabbi organized, and it was actually wonderful – probabaly one fo the most challenging youth activities I had ever been to, which really forced people to challenge their conceptions and to see complexity in apparently simple places.
    And when it comes to intermarriage, forget about it. I hardly remember any conversations about the value of Jewish continuity or marrying Jewish (we had plenty of those in USY) instead the Rabbis all assumed that and spent all of their air trying to convince us to avoid all physical contact with anyone of the opposite sex.
    I am not at all trying to defend NCSY against the critique you raised, rather I find the gulf between NCSY’s fundraising copy and its programming activities. These three things, the trinity of jewish fear, appear to play well with the people with the bucks, but not with the kids they are trying to help.

  3. I assume you don’t get a lot of mail from Jewish organizations, Rooftopper. Because this is standard operating procedure. A few months ago, several blogs picked up on the hyperbole and outright fear-mongering in fundraising collateral from Kupat Ha’ir in Bnei Brak and Shuvu. This is what they do. Lord knows you’re not going to send money if they say, “Hey, wanna fund programs where teenagers get to eat Jewish food, stay in nice homes or hotels, and sing and dance a lot?”

  4. “It’s the same thing Chabad often does, and it’s one of the reasons that lots of secular Jews, many of whom don’t give to other Jewish causes that more represent their values, give to Chabad.”
    I’m more or less a secular Jew. Actually, I’m too religious for the atheist left and not religious enough for the social conservative right.
    Anyway, I give money to Chabad* b/c as the son of single mother, who was working-poor, we did not have much money. All the shuls in our area (I used to live in California) were looking for loot if you wanted to learn Hebrew and get a Jewish education. The majority of the members were affluent who had no problem with the fees. Chabad was the only exception. They took me in, taught me Hebrew, and a lot of other positive things, without payment. Doesn’t mean I became a Chabadnik but I do have mad respect for the work they do and always give them tzedukah when I see them around. It really puzzles and even upsets some of my radical lefty friends but I ask them, what the f did your organizations do for me? Nothing? Than shut the f up.
    * I also give money to other causes like Natal, the Israel Trauma Center for the Victims of Terror and War. They’re good folks, whatever your ideology happens to be and they could use your loot at this difficult time:

  5. Why are you suprised that they found you? Do you subscribe to any magazines? Becasue people always want their magazines, it is the best way to track people down. My workplace uses it to go after accounts sent to collection, works almost every time.

  6. Dear Rooftopper Rav,
    I am glad to read your passion for Judaism. NCSY does care very much about promoting passion for Judaism in all flavors. I am also very pleased that we caught up with you after so many moves and would appreciate direct feedback next time to the address included in our letter!
    As far as your critique on:
    “Today’s average Jewish public school teen believes Israel really belongs to the Palestinians and that the stories of the Holocaust are greatly exaggerated. Needless to say, they date non-Jews almost exclusively”
    Each one of these statements is a fact independant of each other. They do not neccesarily represent all Jewish teens in public school just the majority and I’m glad you and your friends are an exception. As a matter of opinion, anyone who posts or even reads in a Jewish conversation of any type is in the overwhelming minority of today’s young Jews.
    NCSY sends about 1,000 tenns to Israel each summer and there are more alumni of NCSY living in Israel today than from any other Jewish Youth group according to the Israeli Ministry of Education and yes, in NCSY we believe that supporting Israel is extremely important even if you disagree with one or even many policies. For all Jews Israel is a place they can go and be welcomed with open arms no matter what – I call that a definition of home which has been sorely lacking during many periods of Jewish history.
    The statement about the Holocaust did not compare anything to the Holocaust it just stated that such an important Jewish tragedy is not known as a historical fact to most Jewish teens which I’m sure you would agree is a stong indicator that their Jewish education is sorely lacking.
    As far as intermarriage goes the majority of Jewish teens date non Jews as would be expected since they have many more non Jewish friends than Jewish ones. The Lilly foundation (A Christian organization) did an intense study of our alumni and among those not identifying as Orthodox over 90% married other Jews so obviously we are doing something right.
    Besides our active members for over 10,000 Jewish teens per year we are the only ones bringing Jewish experiences to them in their public schools. If not for us, no one would be doing so. We don’t ask them for money but we do ask our alumni to support our very worthy endevours if they choose. You’ll notice the pledge card has opportunities for beibg involved as a volunteer and receiving our newsletter not just giving money.
    I’m sorry you found the request offensive; but, I hope you now understand why we feel it is very reasonable.
    Shabbat Shalom,
    Rabbi Dave

  7. Josh- Thanks for the NCSY history. Interesting to see how things evolve.
    WEVS1- Thanks also for sharing a different perspective on giving to Chabad. A number of Jewish organizations I know are beginning to work with different systems, like cost sharing and/or “fair share” systems to help address the issues you raise.
    Anonymousless- I get plenty of mail from Jewish organizations looking for money. It’s just that most of them cite arguments that are more grounded in fact (and logic) that this was.
    Shabbos to all!

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