If you ask community members to name areas where NCSY is a national leader, chances are many will comment on the group’s celebrated decades-long work in organizing engaging activities for young people, or their wide range of summer youth travel to Israel, which sends more teenagers to Israel each year than any other tour operator.
You might be surprised to learn that in recent years, NCSY has also become one of the Jewish community’s largest providers of service assignments for teens in areas affected by natural disasters. NCSY missions have become so popular that, as Rabbi Ethan Katz tells The Jewish Link, they now regularly have to limit the number of people on those missions.
Katz is the director of the NCSY Relief Missions Office, established four years ago but built on the relief missions conducted by the NCSY for 16 years. The Relief Missions office now runs 45 to 50 missions each year for teens across the country. This office sends teenagers to affected areas that need help to rebuild, such as Puerto Rico, New Orleans, the Carolinas, Kentucky and others. The relief missions office hires 800 to 1,000 teenagers each year.
Katz said the relief missions also attract teenagers from yeshivas and public schools. Asked to explain the popularity of missions, he shared that teenagers often search for meaning in life and on these journeys they feel a strong sense of service and purpose. He often explains to teenagers that “volunteering is part of the Jewish DNA” and he marvels at how teenagers dedicate themselves to relief mission work, despite (or perhaps because of) the physical labor involved. .
Earlier this week, the Relief Mission office sent a new mission to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the 16 participating teens from New Jersey will work with local residents to continue rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Maria he five years ago. The teenagers will help by rebuilding houses, distributing school supplies and other tasks.
This mission is unique in that it is co-sponsored by both Urban Edge, a New Jersey-based real estate and investment firm, the Puerto Rico Department of Education, and other partners.
“As part of our company’s environmental social governance strategy, I was thinking of a way to marry the two main backyards of Urban Edge, the New York metro area and Puerto Rico, and have a huge impact on members of both communities simultaneously,” Etan said. Bluman, SVP, Finance and Investor Relations for Urban Edge. “Having known Rabbi Ethan Katz for the past 15 years and watching the incredible work that NCSY Relief Missions has done since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I understood that we could create something very unique and special.”
Urban Edge Properties is a publicly traded real estate investment trust (NYSE TICKER: EU) focused on the management, acquisition, development and redevelopment of commercial real estate in and around urban communities. The company owns 76 properties, including the Bergen Town Center, located in Bergen County, New Jersey, which is home to teens participating in the NCSY relief mission, as well as two major shopping malls in Puerto Rico. Urban Edge is committed to improving the communities it serves, not only through its real estate, but also by leveraging its resources in a way that meets their specific needs. As part of its growing ESG initiatives, the company empowers its employees, tenants and partners to play an active role in having a positive impact on society.
Speaking to two teenagers on the NCSY mission from New Jersey to Puerto Rico, The Jewish Link got a taste of the kind of excitement these missions inspire. Sasha, a student from Millburn High School, shared, “I had been on a previous mission with no knowledge of the fun I was getting into. I made friendships that still last today. I stepped out of my comfort zone and saw a new perspective in life. A perspective that not everyone has easy and I was happy to be part of a journey to help people along the way. I am fortunate to experience another mission in Puerto Rico. On this mission trip to Puerto Rico, I hope to be able to help Puerto Rican families who have been affected by the recent hurricanes. At the same time, I look forward to meeting new people and creating lasting friendships and memories that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
Ethan, a Grade 10 student at Ridgewood High School, said, “I decided to honestly participate in this activity because I want to help as many people as possible. When JSU posted this assignment and said we would help those in need in Puerto Rico, I signed up as fast as I could. I want to try in my own way to give back to communities that don’t have the same luck as mine.
One important thing I want to take away from this activity is the feeling of having changed someone’s life by helping to build a residence or by distributing school supplies to people who really need them. Another thing I think I take away from this experience is the realization of how lucky my family and I are and how lucky we are to live where we are.
For more information on NCSY relief missions, please visit: https://reliefmissions.ncsy.org/.
By Harry Glazer