When the second Temple was destroyed, Jewish continuity was ensured by the great Tanna Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. It was Ben Zakkai who bargained with the Roman authorities that, though Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, the academy and Torah scholars of Yavneh would be spared.
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was a selfless scholar, who single-handedly navigated a hostile environment to guarantee that the Torah would survive to be transmitted to future generations. It is for this reason that NCSY’s Ben Zakkai Honor Society, founded in 1965, was named in his honor.
The Ben Zakkai Honor Society was originally founded to recognize the achievements of NCSY alumni who have continued in their Torah growth and development beyond their NCSY years, and provided meaningful service to NCSY and/or the greater Jewish community. Ben Zakkai members are at the heart of contemporary Jewish life. For example, over 40 members of Ben Zakkai serve on various Boards of the Orthodox Union.
Members are inducted into the Ben Zakkai Honor Society in three ways, all of which by votes of the membership, whose ranks span five decades of NCSY alumni:
- Candidate Members are current NCSYers, inducted provisionally at the end of their senior year of high school.
- NCSY alumni who were not honored with membership upon graduating high school can be initiated as Direct Inductees. No more than five Direct Inductees are accepted in any given year, so those so honored tend to have distinguished themselves as exceptional figures in the Jewish community.
- Honorary Membership in Ben Zakkai is the highest honor that NCSY can grant someone who was never a member of the organization but who has, through many years of devoted service, earned this unique recognition. Requiring a two-thirds vote of the membership, induction as an Honorary Member is difficult to achieve. In Ben Zakkai’s first 51 years, Honorary Membership was granted only 50 times, and only eight people ever received this honor the first time they were nominated.
The Ben Zakkai Honor Society’s most important function is supporting the current members of NCSY. Ben Zakkai raises critical funds to provide scholarships for NCSYers to continue their Jewish education after high school, or to participate in a variety of educational NCSY programs, including NCSY’s national midwinter Yarchei Kallah and a number of NCSY summer experiences.
The annual Ben Zakkai Honor Society Scholarship Reception on Sunday, November 12, will be honoring the following individuals this year:
- Freda Greenbaum, Founding Chair of Southern NCSY’s Steering Committee and a member of the OU Youth Commission;
- Rabbi Ethan Katz, Regional Director of New Jersey NCSY, renowned as the “chesed rabbi” who has organized more than two dozen trips to cities impacted by natural disaster; and
- Dr. Allan Jacob, founder and chairman of the Jewish Leadership Coalition, which coordinates with the OU Teach Florida initiative to expand state funding for needy students.
Also being honored with membership in Ben Zakkai are Dvorah and Ben Gasner. The Gasners, who reside in Israel, will be recognized at the Ben Zakkai Israel Reception to be held at the OU Israel Center on February 18, 2018.
The Ben Zakkai Honor Society National Scholarship Reception begins at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 12, immediately before the 1st Annual NCSY Gala at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Charles Lindbergh Blvd. in Garden City, NY. A special shiur from Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky will precede the Ben Zakkai reception. In addition to his roles as a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield, NJ; Rabbi Sobolofsky serves as Rosh Yeshiva at the NCSY Summer Kollel in Israel.