A kosher fish is halachically defined by its ability to swim upstream against the tide. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper z”l swam upstream throughout his life, but no more so than as the Founding Director of NCSY. Rabbi Stolper developed, pioneered, and engaged in kiruv beginning in the early 1960s, when the Orthodox Jewish establishment was skeptical that a committed Torah lifestyle would resonate outside of the New York area. The Maharam Schick observed that the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah includes hashavas neshamos. Rabbi Stolper engaged in both hashavas aveidah and hashavas neshamos as the father, pioneer, and visionary of kiruv for adolescents in America
The vehicle through which these goals were achieved were through Shabbatonim. At a Shabbaton, Jewish youth were exposed to sh’miras Shabbos through communal t’filos with a m’chitzah, learning, singing, separate dancing, and interacting with peers and advisors. The overriding “ruach” that pervaded these activities left an indelible impression. The culmination of these local and national Shabbatonim was the national convention. For NCSYers, National Convention was their “Kabalas HaTorah.” Meeting other Jewish teenagers from throughout the country gave NCSYers enormous chizuk that they were not alone in their exploration of Torah Judaism during the turbulent social milieu of the 1960s.
It was because of Rabbi Stolper, and his vision and perseverance, that NCSY flourished in the succeeding decades. Many of the participants became leaders in NCSY as regional and national officers. Many NCSYers went on to learn in Israel and attend YU, Stern, Touro, and yeshivos and seminaries in Israel. The Torah, avodah, and g’milus chasadim implanted through the NCSY experience helped develop a generation of rabbinic and communal lay leaders. The driving force behind all these successes was Rabbi Stolper, who worked tirelessly in front and behind the scenes.
NCSYers were not only impacted by Rabbi Stolper’s successful programs but by him as a role model. He was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Although, he was on the road for many conventions, he often brought his family. During the shiv’ah in Chicago, Rebbetzin Michal Cohen recounted that attending National Convention was one of the most inspiring educational experiences of her life.
On a personal note, I attended my first regional convention in Ellenville, New York, in May 1969 at the urging of the local NCSY chapter and national officer, Fern (Landesberg) Goldstein z”l. I kept Shabbos for the first time and heard Rabbi Stolper, whose divrei Torah and Havdalah were mesmerizing. I also met David and Vivian Luchins, who were then chasan and kallah, and with whom I share a cherished friendship even today. I fondly remember the Shabbasos and Purim s’udos I spent with Rabbi Stolper while attending Yeshiva University. We will always cherish Rabbi Stolper’s brachah acharita at both our chasunah and at our oldest daughter’s, as well. The connection continues, as our granddaughter in Chicago is close friends with one of Rabbi Stolper’s great-granddaughters.
The Mishnah and Gemara in many places discuss the meaning of an av and a toladah. An av is considered the Torah level in describing many halachos, whereas the tolados, or additional levels of Torah on a rabbinic development, are derived by Chazal. Rabbi Stolper was the av, or spiritual father and pioneering visionary, to so many individuals who were his tolados as rabbis, mechanchim, communal leaders, and committed b’nei and b’nos Torah. May his memory always be a blessing and z’chus for the critical, important work of NCSY.
By Steven Brizel