September 23, 2019

A Place for Teens, Torah and Hanging Out

While the adults are talking up the “sense of permanence” and “central address,” Miriam Segura has a simpler way of expressing the significance of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) new building – hanging out.

“When you ask teens what they like to do, they say hang out,” says Segura, a high school senior who is on the West Coast regional board of the NCSY. “Hanging out can be destructive or can be constructive. What NCSY is trying to do is make constructive hanging out more fun.”

The Orthodox Union (OU), NCSY’s parent organization, recently purchased a two-story building on Pico west of Roxbury, where 90 percent of the space – about 4,000 square feet – will be dedicated to teens.The building will house a teen drop-in lounge with pool table, pingpong table, pinball machine and lots of comfy couches to sprawl out on; a year-round sukkah; a library and learning center; and rooms for offices, classes, and more hanging out.

The OU’s West Coast offices will take up one suite in the building.

“We really want to grow into the building,” says OU West Coast director Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, walking through the garden courtyard enclosed in the squat building. “We want the kids to determine how to use the space.”

The OU is a national umbrella organization for Orthodox synagogues and has had a West Coast representative for 30 years. West Coast OU represents 30 shuls, in a swath covering San Diego to Vancouver, and east to El Paso, Texas.

OU spent about $1 million to purchase and renovate the 1950s office building across the street from the Museum of Tolerance .

NCSY is also getting a new director this year, as Rabbi Steven Burg arrives from Detroit at the end of the summer, bringing with him a solid reputation as a skilled youth leader.

The new building and change in leadership came at an opportune moment, offering parents and teens a natural forum for communicating with the professional and lay leadership about the abuse and harassment allegations toward national NCSY figure Rabbi Baruch Lanner (see accompanying story).

There will be a reorganization of the youth commission and several parent meetings, Kalinsky says.NCSY, which serves about 3,000 kids in this region, runs weekend retreats on large and small scales and runs programs where yeshiva kids mix with public school kids to learn about Judaism. The teens also participate in charity and volunteer programs.

Aside from the drop-in center and educational and social programs, Kalinsky says health-care and mental health professionals from the community have volunteered to come in occasionally to talk with kids in groups and privately.

“We want to provide an environment for kids to come to feel safe and inspired,” Kalinsky said.For information call (310) 777-0225, or go to