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Monday, October 21, 2019

Rabbi Ethan Katz, the longtime regional director of New Jersey NCSY, is now expanding his reach. The beloved rabbi has been tapped as the NCSY national director of disaster relief missions, due in large part to the tremendous success he achieved running these missions while in his previous role in New Jersey.

While New Jersey has run over 100 chesed missions in the last decade, other areas of the country had difficulty getting such trips up and running. When the question of “Why?” inevitably arose, the answer was simple: New Jersey had Rabbi Katz.

In an interview with The Jewish Link, Rabbi Katz discussed how his past work seamlessly led to his current position.

“Being the director of New Jersey NCSY was my dream job; I loved what I did. I was basically thrust into this position,” Rabbi Katz said, adding that he sees the benefit of his new position and is excited for what the future holds.

“We are on call for disaster relief, but that is not our goal,” he noted. “The fact that we help others is wonderful, but it’s not the goal. Our true goal is to impact the teens coming on our trips. We want to help teens relate to Judaism in a new way. We want them to become more connected to the state of Israel.”

“Unfortunately,” Rabbi Katz continued, “our teens are not engaged. This is how they engage. Mission trips increase their self-esteem and their Jewish self-esteem tremendously. Doing this work, they become excited and see that it really is better to give than to receive.”

“Our kids do not understand poverty, and this teaches them to appreciate all that they have in their lives,” he added.

When Rabbi Katz took the reigns of this new national program in the middle of last year, he was tasked with creating 25 national mission trips for this year. With the school year having begun mere weeks ago, he already has 35 trips lined up, along with a very long waiting list.

“We could easily be up to 100 missions,” he commented.

Rabbi Katz is looking forward to working with public and private schools throughout the country. The first trip is scheduled for the end of October, with weekly trips from that point forward.

“We were prepared to respond to Hurricane Dorian. The Bahamas won’t be ready to take volunteers for another six months at least,” he said.

“I am excited about our first trip. We are participating in a multifaith unity build in New Orleans. Each organization will work for about a month to build a certain number of homes. We are the only Orthodox group and the only Jewish group from out of state,” Rabbi Katz added proudly. “Our kids will learn that we can work together with other faiths, respect each other’s beliefs and not cross boundaries.”

Rabbi Katz expects this first trip to be eye-opening for the teen participants, many of whom have not had previous contact with other faith-based groups in this way.

In addition to working with other faiths, Rabbi Katz is looking forward to bridging gaps within Judaism. “We will have multiple schools, public and day schools, from multiple states all together. We want our yeshiva kids to see that it’s okay for them to work with public school kids and vice versa,” he continued.

“This is such great PR for Jews,” he stated. “We are helping other people and working in conjunction with other groups.”

This newly created position has allowed Rabbi Katz the luxury of having big dreams. While this year’s trips are all within the contiguous 48 states, “I would love to do trips to Puerto Rico and Hawaii,” he shared.

“I would love to run missions to Africa, to help the people who need it the most,” Rabbi Katz added.

His biggest hope for the future? “Twenty years from now, when there is a conference of shul and school presidents from across the country, I want them to have one thing in common—that they all went on an NCSY mission.”

For more information, visit https://reliefmissions.ncsy.org/.

By Jill Kirsch