Israel’s sun beat down hard on his skin. The smell of success filled his nostrils like a scented candle. His heart beat faster and faster as the ball made that sound that every basketball player strives for: swish. Last summer, this was a day in the life of one junior, Nate Greenberg, who participated in NCSY Kollel, an Israel program for high school boys that focuses both on both learning and basketball. Although Greenberg spends most of his free time during the year on the basketball court as a member of his high school varsity team, it was not the highlight of his summer. “I went into Kollel fully expecting basketball to be the center of my everyday life,” said Greenberg. “I figured learning would be something I would just get through. But little did I know I would find a new passion in learning. That’s the effect Kollel had on my Judaism,” he explained. Greenberg, who currently attends Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station, PA, is just one of many high schoolers who have had their lives changed by NCSY Kollel.
As students look out their school windows and spring rolls around, it becomes increasingly harder for them to focus on their school work, as they cannot help but picture the fresh summer sun that leaves every teenager feeling carefree and elated. And that summer sun is not stronger anywhere than in the Jewish homeland of Israel, a fact Greenberg learned last summer.
Greenberg is known by most as a funny and charismatic kid who likes music and playing ball, but not exactly the typical kid to voluntarily go on a program that features six hours of learning every day. But still, after all the chatter he had heard about NCSY Kollel, Greenberg decided that he just had to know what all the fuss was about. “What makes the program one of a kind is that they know that it’s going to be hard for kids, so they’re accommodating. They made me a deal that I could learn one on one with my madrich [Hebrew for counselor], Menachum Pollack, for the first hour [in the morning]. It made shiur [Hebrew for class] so much easier,” Greenberg recounted. This deal is unique to Kollel because the program is trying to inspire kids any way possible. After time passed, Greenberg not only began to tolerate shiur, but he even began to enjoy it. “Eventually, I started to really appreciate my morning shiur and stayed for the full three hours. Rabbi [Yakov] Danishevsky [one of the rebbeim on Kollel who doubles a teacher at Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago during the year], was so inspiring, and really pushed us to do better.”
After the morning shiur, everyone broke for lunch and Mincha (Hebrew for afternoon prayer service), and then picked up an hour later for chaburahs (small group lectures). “What was most surprising to me was that afternoon chaburahs was absolutely my favorite part,” Greenberg stated. “My madrich had an energy that you couldn’t miss, and it kept everyone in the chaburah excited and alive.” During this hour, every madrich gathered their group of three to six kids, and taught them topics specifically geared toward teenagers, like Shomer Negiah, Kol Isha, or just about the holidays.
Following afternoon session, the famed and highly anticipated Kollel sports leagues commenced, which featured 32 teams in the basketball league, and 10 in the hockey league. Greenberg opted to participate only in the basketball league and enjoyed it endlessly. “It is very intense,” he explained; “you are playing with the best kids in the Yeshiva league.” When asked about how he fared, Greenberg laughed, stating, “I started off slow, but improved immensely as time went on. That’s an effect Kollel can have on you.” Greenberg’s season high was 13 points, and in one playoff game he hit three 3-pointers in a row to bring his team back from a large deficit.
But if you are not much of a ballplayer, the program exciting daily trip options; whether it’s to Kraft field to play Frisbee or football, a light hike, or even going to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb), Kollel participants are guaranteed to have an option they will enjoy. And, of course, the Beit Midrash (Hebrew for study hall) is always open, full of people looking for a chavruta (Hebrew for study partner).
After the sports break, participants would relax a little at dinner before piling into the Beit Midrash for the highly energized and anticipated two-hour Night Seder. “For the first hour, I learned with a Madrich I’m very close with, Ezra Teichman,” Greenberg said. “It was very chill. He knew I was pretty wiped out from the day so a good amount of the time we would talk.” Afterwards, Greenberg walked over to the lower dining room to hear Rabbi Mordechai Burg, a Rebbe from Yeshivat Mevaseret, speak on the topic of “Authentic Judaism.” “It was something I looked forward to all day. Rabbi Burg was funny, exciting, and interesting. What really separated him from every other shiur I have ever been to was that he did not just go on about Judaism. He spoke about [NBA legends] Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Apple’s technology, things that spoke to kids. It was the most invested in a shiur that I have ever been,” Greenberg described. The energy in the packed Beit Midrash during Night Seder was truly unforgettable, as kids get to feel the excitement of a real Beit Midrash. This energy could only be topped by Thursday optional evening learning, which seemingly the entire camp stayed for. “To be fair, they did incentivize it by giving out shawarma at the end,” Greenberg chuckled, “but it was definitely a great time.”
Aside from the incredibly packed daily schedule, what further separates Kollel from other summer programs, according to Greenberg, are the weekly trip options. He explained, “From intense hikes in the Negev, to inspiring trips to Yerushalayim, the trips were unforgettable.” Jumping off cliffs into water, repelling down waterfalls, and getting the chance to see the land gives teenage boys a new appreciation for Israel. The Kollell experience, Green believes, has had an impact on every single one of the thousands of kids that have gone through the program. “I moved up to Honors Gemara this year and am still in touch with my Madrich,” Greenberg explained. “Kollel will impact me for the rest of my life.”