Growing up in a small Jewish community in Twin Rivers, Aaron Horn found a spiritual home at NCSY, assuming leadership positions in the Orthodox Union youth movement’s New Jersey region.
Barely out of his teens himself, he decided to give back professionally, eventually becoming director of the Junior NCSY division for middle school students in 2007.
“Growing up in a small town, Twin Rivers, you come to a Shabbaton… — it’s just an eye-opening experience,” he told NJJN. “That was an experience I really wanted to give back.”
NCSY in turn has recognized Horn, 25, for his achievements. On Jan. 30, at its 15th Annual Scholarship Reception, the organization inducted him into its Ben Zakkai Honor Society.
The society is an alumni “Hall of Fame” whose new members are nominated by, and voted on, by its current members based on the nominees’ service to NCSY and the Jewish community. The society’s main function is to raise funds for scholarships for high school NCSYers for summer programs in North America and Israel and for teens to continue their Jewish education after high school.
The newly married Horn, whose family became more observant as he was growing up, attended Shalom Torah Academy in East Windsor through eighth grade and Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in South River. He went on to study for two years at Israel’s Yeshivat Har Etzion before enrolling in Yeshiva University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in biology.
He is currently working toward his master’s degree in Jewish education and will — in addition to his other responsibilities — finish his requirements for smicha (rabbinical ordination) this year.
Horn became the regional vice president of NCSY’s New Jersey Region in 2003. As an undergraduate at YU, he became an adviser and administrator for NJ Junior NCSY, taking over as director three years ago. This past summer he directed one of the buses of The Jerusalem Journey, an NCSY summer program in Israel for public school students.
Later this month, he also will oversee a new event — the Feb. 25-27 interregional Shabbaton in Cherry Hill, with students from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Virginia.
In an interview at a coffee shop close to NCSY’s Teaneck offices, Horn noted that many middle school yeshiva students may be observant but not necessarily inspired spiritually. NCSY “gives these kids an environment where they’re comfortable” asking questions and developing leadership skills. At that age, “they’re starting to think for themselves, but they’re not necessarily thought-out people.”
“We meet each kid where they are and bring them religious growth,” he said.
Horn’s supervisor, NCSY’s NJ Region director Rabbi Yaakov Glasser has known Horn since he was in elementary school.
“Aaron has extraordinary leadership abilities in any educational context in which he finds himself,” said Glasser. “He is a very inspirational young fellow.”
Glasser added that Horn is both a Torah scholar and someone who leads with creativity.
“He can really get up there and touch the souls of the kids who are distracted by the technology of the day and find within them that spark of focus that can help them develop the more spiritual aspect of themselves — and he is very effective at that,” said Glasser.