The following e-mail was sent to parents of NFTY Convention participants on the evening of Saturday, February 19th:
“Resolutions without action are meaningless,” said URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie in his Shabbat morning message to NFTY Convention and Youth Workers Conference delegates. Noting that we live in an insane world, Rabbi Yoffie encouraged NFTYites to make this world a more sane place by scratching the word “hate” from their vocabularies and by deciding not to surrender to bigotry or bullying.
“I believe that you are prepared to be up-standers and not bystanders,” he told them as he enumerated a list of things that teens can do to advocate for themselves and others. “As you work to keep the world sane and to have faith, it is important to enjoy yourselves as you go,” he said. “After all, God tells you that you are an infinitely precious person.”
The teens responded with cheers and applause throughout and a standing ovation for the leader of the Reform Movement. “He definitely connected with us,” one teen said. “He was on our level; he told us what we wanted to hear.”
The Shabbat Morning experience was powerful. Torah study lead into prayer that transitioned into a spirited hakafah and Torah Service culminating with Rabbi Yoffie’s message.
This afternoon NFTY launched its newest initiative which addresses the global epidemic of distracted driving. You could hear a pin drop as 700 teenagers sat mesmerized by the story of Jacy Good and her family. Nearly three years ago, on her college graduation day, Jacy was critically wounded and her parents were killed in a crash that she calls “100% preventable.” The 18-year-old driver that caused the crash was talking on his cell phone.
Jacy and her fiancée Steve Johnson told of the day that changed their lives forever. Don’t drive and talk, they said noting that it’s more dangerous than drunk driving. “You will never know if you have saved a life by doing the right thing,” Steve told the teens. “You will sure as hell know if you have done the opposite. We know. Learn from us!” they said as the teens erupted in appreciative applause. Pledging to make their cars “no phone zones,” NFTYites were challenged to carry this message home to family, to friends, to youth groups and to congregations.
Tonight we celebrate as a community with Havdalah and performances by two of Jewish music’s brightest stars. On the Women of Reform Judaism NFTY Convention concert stage we will welcome Dan Nichols and Josh Nelson for a spirit-filled evening of song and dance.
As we paused on Shabbat to rest and give thanks, I was reminded of just how much the work of our teens deeply and positively impacts our communities and the world at large. Their thoughtful questions and dialogue; their soulful expressions of prayer and song and the respect with which they treat one another are all things for which you can be proud.
I would like to thank you for supporting your incredible, strong Reform Jewish teenagers. Without you, NFTY Convention would be impossible.
Rabbi Michael Mellen