Rabbi Aryeh Wielgus was named to the position of regional director of New Jersey NCSY this summer with a plan to build on the past, while looking toward the future.
“Any transition in leadership gives us the opportunity to dream. How can we do more? How can we do better?” Rabbi Wielgus said in an interview with The Jewish Link. “There is no need to change what’s working. We will keep doing what we’re doing well, and keep dreaming bigger and
“New Jersey experienced tremendous growth under Rabbi Katz’ leadership,” he noted, in a nod to Rabbi Ethan Katz, the former head of New Jersey NCSY, who has now assumed the role of the NCSY national director of disaster relief missions. “Now we want to redouble our efforts; we want to ignite a spark and get these kids involved and engaged with their Jewish community.”
Rabbi Wielgus, who resides in Bergenfield, comes to this position from the Greater Washington area, where he served as director, managing Jewish outreach to private and public schools. He was able to enlarge the infrastructure for outreach to public school teens, and he hopes to bring those ideas to New Jersey.
“I grew up in Brooklyn, and my parents were involved in New Jersey NCSY as volunteers. My father remained involved and I tagged along as a kid. I loved it and somehow knew this was where I was meant to be,” he reminisced.
Recognizing that the Jewish people are fighting a constant battle against assimilation, Rabbi Wielgus commented that “what we are really fighting is apathy. Assimilation is one manifestation of apathy.”
In an effort to combat apathy among Jewish teens, Rabbi Wielgus plans to involve as many community partners as possible. His hope is to join with more public schools and day schools, and expand into more communities.
“We want to expand into communities with a strong Jewish presence, that may not necessarily have an Orthodox community,” he stated. “We are always looking to where we can expand. Our biggest challenge to expanding to smaller communities is resources.”
Rabbi Wielgus remarked that he has teens in three schools ready to get involved in Bergen County, but he is in need of an adviser. He hopes to get Jewish communities in Englewood, Tenafly and elsewhere involved in the coming months. He is also looking to expand into Morris County communities like Randolph.
“We are reaching over 2,000 teens, including over 1,000 public school teens, and that’s just a fraction of the Jewish public school teens,” he added.
In addition to involving more public schools, he plans to utilize the talents of Rabbi Josh Grajower, who was recently hired as the NCSY director of day school engagement for New York and New Jersey, to “really get the day schools in partnership with us. We need to bring the magic of NCSY to the day schools,” Rabbi Wielgus said.
Day school students are already involved through NCSY’s summer programming, and Rabbi Wielgus plans to build on that to engage them during the year as well. “New Jersey is so lucky to send hundreds of teens to Israel. We need to keep them engaged throughout the year,” he remarked.
Rabbi Wielgus emphasized that NCSY is for all Jews, regardless of religious affiliation. “NCSY is a community klal Yisrael organization,” he said. “If it’s klal Yisrael, it’s us. No matter your affiliation, we are here.”
For more information on New Jersey NCSY, visit njncsy.org, or reach out to Rabbi Wielgus directly at [email protected].