The NCSY Shabbaton Experience

I’ve always had an odd relationship with NCSY. I was chapter president of Springfield for 4 years – 2 Junior and 2 Senior – but that was mostly because there was no one else around my age to do the job. At the shabbatons themselves I found myself somewhat marginailzed, due to a combination of adolescent awkwardness (read: geek) and having an alternative hashkafa which emphasized independent thought.
This past shabbat there was a Senior NCSY shabbaton in Springfield. An old friend my high school NCSY days, is now the regional director of some sort – despite swearing repeatedly that, “I am *never* doing NCSY when I graduate.” Aside from him, I knew a maximum of four other people who were involved with the shabbaton.
Anyway, it got me thinking back to my days as an NCSY’er. Since I’m home, I dug up a poem I wrote for the yearbook.
This was my last year in NCSY. I was outgoing Sr. President of Springfield, and my sister Esther was advisor of Juniors at the time. The Etz Chaim region has a thing called the “Torah Fund,” where they hit up the chapters for arbitrarily assessed amounts – loosely based on membership. This money went to the usual causes of supporting students for Israel programs and getting nice things for administrator’s families.
Fortunately, a chapter could fulfill its requirement by purchasing ads in the yearbook, and Springfield’s was so low that we were able to cover it by getting two ads. Esther and I decided to split one of them for Juniors and Seniors and I knocked out the following poem in roughly 15 minutes (she can vouch for that).
One editor of the yearbook was so offended by it she almost didn’t let it get published. In the end, she let it go through, but only after she mangled the meter on most stanzas. I don’t care enough to fix it right now, so you’ll have to deal with someone else’s horrible editing of a high-school senior’s 15 minute poem.
I present, now with additional annotations,

The NCSY Shabbaton Experience


My first shabbaton was in Bayonne
In 1989
I had never seen the like before
And had a pretty good time1
Ever since that time, I’ve been to many
From Allentown to Wayne2
But excluding some subtle nuances
They’re really all the same
If Shabbat would start at 5:30
Registration would be at 4:00
But not until 5:29
Would some first walk through the door3
Dinner is served, and people eat
Although I don’t know why
Because the food that they are eating
Could be ever min ha-hai4
We move into a circle
Where chapters show their pride
And those giving divrei Torah
Are so beautiful inside5
The meal is followed by informative sessions
That teach the important theme
There are some who even pay attention
While other just daydream6
Erev Shabbat ends with a snack and a shmooze
And then we go off to bed
Some people get up for shaharit on time
While others sleep late instead7
The schedule planned for shabbat day
Is like the previous night
Again we eat more rotten food
And learn to do what’s right
During menuha, our time of rest
We relax and have some fun
And just maybe, if our luck is good
We’ll have dates before it’s done8
As menuha comes to a close
Shalosh seudot is served
To ingest that marshmallow fluff and tuna
Requires lots of nerve9
In circle this time, we’ll sing the songs
We’ve heard over the years
While a rabbi will speak with much emotion
And will not hold back the tears10
After ma’ariv, the havdalah candle
Will be held for all to see
The emotional crowd will sing over and over
Hinei el yeshuati
And esteemed member of the regional board
Will hold the candle high
And another rabbi will give a speech
That will surely make us cry11
When havdalah is over, we leave and return
For the activity of the night
Where we all find out what the event was
That was carefully kept from our sight12
When we return dinner is served
Usually pasta and a sauce
By this time the party crashers
Probably have been tossed13
After the final meal, we sit on the floor
Ready to sing our songs
One word of advice, sit near a wall
Or your back won’t last that long
Kumsitz time, where the only light
Is a solitary flame
So those who’ve earned the “right to speak”14
Need not reveal their names
The emotional kumsitz has tearfully ended
And we jump and dance some more
And before we go home, we’ll get our luggage
That has been strewn across the floor15
The final tearful good-byes come
Our dearest friends we seek
For we will not get a chance to see them
For at least another week16
Well this is the typical Shabbaton
I hope that you’ve had fun
I have just one more final message
Before this rhyme is done
Hopefully, we have “grown up”
Many lessons we have learned
But who among us can foretell the future
If we shall ever return17
THE END?

1. This is true on all counts. I even remember most of the details including the sessions, my sleeping in the shul, and a dodge-ball game breaking out while people were trying to sleep and me getting trampled repeatedly. Good times.
2. Not quite true. While Winter Regional used to be held in Allentown, I never actually went to Wayne. I used these two places because at the time, they were the first and last chapters when listed alphabetically. Consider this poetic license.
3. I remember the first draft had 5:35, but Esther wisely said that I shouldn’t suggest that people were actually mehallel shabbat at these things. Lord knows that never happened at an NCSY Shabbaton.
4. The original had the Hebrew, and I’m transliterating here. If you saw the food at a typical Shabbaton, you’d also think the stuff was still alive. Dead food is only supposed to move so much.
5. One of the shticks used is when someone gets up to give a devar torah, people say, “You look so beauuuutiful as uuuuusual, inside and outside and upside down (or all round) especially your [insert something here].”
6. This is normal considering advisors may have 5 or even 10 minutes to prepare a session.
7. At my first Spring Regional convention, most of the kids and rabbis stayed up for an all-night awards banquet. We barely had a minyan the next morning, and all the rabbis basically missed zemanei tefillah. This was my first introduction to NCSY’s misplaced priorities.
8. Apparently a lot more went on that I didn’t know about, so this stanza is relatively tame compared to the reality at that time.
9. I admit I was reaching here. The thing was, everyone made fun of the food and it was perfectly acceptable filler material.
10. Another peeve of mine was the emotional manipulation done at these things. Might be a subject for another post. But, I do have to mention the “best” shalosh seudot tripe I’ve personally heard which involved this rabbi’s wife avoiding a car accident because she prayed to God and managed to phase through solid matter. Classic.
11. They were really big into the crying deal in my day.
12. For some reason we weren’t allowed to know what the night activity was. Apparently, the anticipation for ice skating was too much for us to handle.
13. It was much cooler being at a shabbaton to which you weren’t invited. People felt important that way.
14. After putting in insane amount of time and effort to planning a shabbaton, one administrator went up to hear and actually said that she “earned the right to speak” at the kumsitz. This should tell you something about the pretentiousness and inflated egos of some of the people involved.
15. Although it did make the dancing a little more exciting by having an obstacle course right there.
16. I know this sounds like a line from Blue Fringe’s Flippin Out, but I wrote this several years before the song came out. I doubt that Dov ever saw this yearbook, and he’s far more talented then I am such that he doesn’t need my help for lyrics. Consider this a “great minds think alike” coincidence.
17. Running on fumes at this point. Esther and I noticed that some people spent their entire lives in NCSY in some vain attempt at maintaining their youth or recapturing lost moments. Many enjoyed the NCSY game and didn’t want to let go. Eventually, most did manage to get on with their lives. Either that, or they sold out and became employees.

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