Apr 2, 2009 — In a world where instant access to entertainment through iPods, Youtube and Facebook encourages a superficial connectivity among younger generations, Zev Eleff probes the deeper questions of religion and values. A student in the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College, Eleff recently completed “Living from Convention to Convention: A History of the NCSY, 1954-1980” (Ktav Publishing House), a book that illuminates how past educators have engaged disaffected youth in meaningful dialogue and exploration through NCSY and the informal Jewish education movement in North America.
Motivated by his fascination with the history of formal and inform
al education in the U.S. over the past century, Eleff began his research in the Yeshiva University archives, aided by Shulamith Z. Berger, curator of special collections, and her colleagues at the Mendel Gottesman Library. His journey also traversed historical archives across North America, including Savannah, GA; Charleston, NC; and Minneapolis, MN.
“Aside from filling a crucial gap in American Jewish history,” Eleff said he hopes that “the book will speak to NCSY staff members and advisors as well as NCSYers themselves, and give them insight into how important their movement truly has been for American Jewish youth for over five decades.”
NCSY, formerly known as the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, is the international youth organization of the Orthodox Union. It is dedicated to connecting, inspiring and empowering Jewish teens and encouraging passionate Judaism through Torah and tradition.
Eleff is a former editor of “The Commentator,” YC’s student newspaper, and he compiled and edited “Mentor of Generations: Reflections on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik” (Ktav Publishing House). He credits his studies at Yeshiva for forcing him to “rethink the way I look at the arts of research and writing.”
“Yeshiva’s Torah Umadda philosophy has always been a guidepost for me to tread the boundaries between Jewish values and the sacred but secular academe,” he said. “Very often while writing, I forced myself to pause and consider how to write paragraphs that were respectful of both Judaism and our community on one side and the academe on the other.”
He was guided in his research by numerous faculty members and credits Bernie Scharfstein and Adam Bengal at Ktav for their support and wisdom in guiding the book to publication.
Joshua Karlip, assistant professor of Jewish history, mentored Eleff, who approached the project as an independent study before it developed into a book. “His paper surpassed all my expectations,” Karlip said. “Zev possesses the determination as well as the skill of a mature historian.”
Eleff recently heard that he has been awarded a Wexner Fellowship to do graduate studies at Columbia Teacher’s College next year.
“Living from Convention to Convention” was well received at this year’s SOY Seforim Sale. It is available through the OU website at www.shopou.org and will be on sale in Jewish bookstores in the near future.