By Adam Barry
Each year, NCSY (formerly the National Conference of Synagogue Youth) and Jewish Student Union organizations across the country and in the greater Baltimore area reach out to Jewish students to help them connect with their faith and communities.
Mordi Spero, now in his second year as NCSY’s JSU coordinator in Baltimore, oversees JSU organizations at public and private high schools and learning programs weekly in the area. Franklin, Owings Mills, Towson and Pikesville high schools all offer JSU programming, along with the Park School of Baltimore, McDonogh School, Boys’ Latin School of Maryland and Calvert Hall.
More than 220 area teenagers have participated in NCSY programming so far this year.
Spero’s plans for the winter include taking students to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit in Washington, D.C., along with trips to New York City and a local ski resort.
With these trips, Spero said he hopes to connect students with their peers from New York, Philadelphia and the greater Washington area.
“The goal of JSU programming in Baltimore is to connect every Jewish teen to Judaism, however they are able to connect,” said Spero. “Whether that means a love for Israel, whether that means just a strong Jewish identity, proud to be a Jew, or whether that means being able to identify as a Jew in school.”
Among the programs he administers for NCSY, Spero said he is most excited by the organization’s Sen. Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars Program.
The program connects students with one-on-one mentoring with local community members and leaders, lawmakers — including Cardin – and lobbyists who introduce them to the process of advocating for issues affecting American Jewry.
At the conclusion of the program, the students visit Washington and receive hands-on experience lobbying lawmakers for issues surrounding national Jewish interests.
Zoey Feit, a sophomore at Franklin High School, participated in the Cardin program last winter. She spoke highly of her own mentor in the Cardin program, a Jewish woman from Australia who guided her through issues in her life and with her faith, along with getting to know her on a personal level.
“It was really cool as a ninth-grader being completely new to any group activities like this, and something really scheduled, to have that and have it be something related to Judaism was really great,” she said.
From the Cardin program, Feit became more involved with other NCSY programs, including a skiing trip and a visit to Six Flags America amusement park, which she said helped her connect with other Jewish students.
“I really enjoy the traditions and the family, and just being a part of something,” she said.
Students that complete the program receive a stipend from NCSY or a discounted price on the organization’s four-week trip to Israel offered every summer, but the goal of the program and the wider NCSY organization remains helping students to find their own religious identity, said Spero.
“However they are able to connect, what I hope to bring to the table is them being able to be more proud to be a Jew and connect with their Jewish identity,” said Spero. “We really have something for every Jewish teen out there, whatever it is that they would want.”
For information, contact Mordi Spero at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-248-0634.
Adam Barry is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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