Originally published at the Temple Beth Miriam blog
NFTY Convention has been one of the most memorable experiences of my Jewish life so far, if not my entire life. I had heard stories from other NFTYites about their amazing Convention experiences, but it still managed to exceed even my highest expectations. Each day was jam packed with programming and services, as well as trips into nearby Dallas. But simple explanations of our excursions and program procedures could not possibly do the experience justice, so I’ll give you some emotional highlights.
The night of the Josh Nelson/Dan Nichols concert was, for me, the most intense part of Convention. About 800 other Jewish teens gathered in the hotel ballroom. Even before the first note was played, the anticipation was palpable. As the lights dimmed and the musicians entered the stage, energy coursed through the room. We all leaped up on our chairs. As the music pounded through the speakers, we sang so loud and and jumped so high that the entire floor shook.
It was an unforgettable experience. The enthusiasm and excitement that I felt from the other teens around me, their passion for Judaism, was so inspirational. I’ll never forget the feeling.
I’ve always found something really interesting in airplanes. Everyone has come together to get to a specific point, probably without knowing many people on their flight. Everyone on the flight is headed to the same destination, but not necessarily from the same starting point or at the same ending point.
This fascination carries to NFTY Convention literally with the plane example, but also as Convention is a sort of plane. Each person reserved a seat to be there, decided to devote time to getting to the next place more swiftly. In my opinion, airports are the ultimate people- watching experience. You have many opportunities to meet new people, watch how others interact with each other, and understand how different home environments lead to this social spectrum.
At Convention, I participated in a program educating all opinions of Marriage Equality. Rabbi Mike Mellen prefaced all workshops with the idea that most of the time we do not see the whole picture. Understanding all sides can make your belief stronger, and help to educate others instead of creating further conflict. In my Marriage Equality session, we split into 3 groups (one learning about equality, one about civil unions, and one against equality wholly). Then 3 people from each group (a total of 9) came together to present the opinion their large group worked on.
My group of 9 happened to be made up of kids from 9 different regions of NFTY. Each of us believed in marriage equality as best decision after discussing the rights and responsibilities of being married and in love. I thought about how different it must be to live in Kentucky and feel singled out to be pro- equality. I found not only the surface of what we had learned about equality fascinating, but also what we had learned more deeply about each other as young Reform Jews from all over North America.
There were many other learning experiences like this at NFTY Convention, and I am very proud to have been able to be a part of its influence on our movement.
From the moment I got to the Newark airport, all I could say was “I’m going to Texas.” I was in complete disbelief that the event was finally happening, and that I was going on a plane trip without my parents to spend four days in a hotel with over seven hundred Jewish teens.
The flight was a breeze, and I enjoyed myself every minute of every day I was in Texas. We stayed at the beautiful Fairmount Hotel in Dallas, and spent most of our time there. The programs were really impactful. There was one in particular about texting and driving, and the speaker was a woman who had been in an accident caused by distracted driving. Hearing her speak about her parents who had passed away and seeing the lasting injuries from the crash was very emotional, and I think it had an effect on every teen in the room.
It is a hard thing to capture the attention of a large room of teens, but Convention accomplished that. We had two concerts, fun programs, a comedian, and field trips to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and Gilley’s. The whole event was well organized. There was always something to do.
For me, it was beyond amazing to see my camp friends. I got to reconnect with people who had gone to Kutz with me, and spark new friendships with people I didn’t get a chance to talk to over the summer. I met teens from all over the country. However, I also made some bonds that weren’t so long distance. I got closer with kids in my NFTY region. I had the opportunity to introduce my NFTY friends to my camp friends, and I watched new friendships blossom. Everyone at Convention wanted to make friends and meet new people, so this created a comfortable, accepting environment. This kind of atmosphere made me feel more outgoing and confident, which is always refreshing after months of schoolwork and stress. Convention was an incredible experience, and I wish I could have stayed there forever.
NFTY Convention cannot be described in words. This is due to the fact that there are not enough words in the world to properly describe it. NFTY Convention 2011 was one of the best experiences I have ever undergone. Convention shows the unity of all nineteen regions in our NFTY community.
With around 800 voices, 800 hearts and 800 teens joined together we see the magic of Kehillah Kedoshah. Being a sacred community and a single family united, every individual brings something different to the table even if they are a part of a larger picture. Everyone contributes their many different opinions and cultures to make what we have so special.
Convention brings a time for making bonds stronger with those whom you already know and for creating bonds with new people from all over the United States and Canada. For instance, at this Convention I felt the bond of GERites growing stronger, but I also made strong bonds with new friends that live in other places such as Michigan. Convention truly is an awesome experience and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to go.
Like most other NFTY events, Shabbat is filled with music and dancing; While days are filled with programming as well as a ton of fun. Participants are also informed about many vital social action issues currently going on in our world.
Some highlights of Convention 2011 included a trip to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a program with the RAC, a Josh Nelson/Dan Nichols concert, a night at Gilley’s in downtown Dallas, a presentation from Jacy Good and Steve Johnson about staying focused while driving, a presentation from the organization Invisible Children, and as always song session.
But I cannot forget that one of the greatest parts of Convention was seeing the six other SALTYites having an awesome time. The fact that Beth Miriam was able to send seven teenagers in addition to Dee Ross our youth advisor is incredible, it shows how strong and supportive our congregation is. It is so nice to see a congregation willing to support their teenagers who have continued Judaism, while studies show that only 25% of teens continue being active in the Jewish community post Bar Mitzvah. A special thanks to everyone who made this trip possible for the teens of SALTY and especially thanks to Pess and Berg Families.
Convention was a new and exciting experience for me. It was so cool to be able to get away and spent time with a bunch of people that are my same age.
All of the workshops that were available were very informative and allowed me to look at the world in a different light…. to be able to see both sides to arguments and to understand society. It was fun to hear all of the powerful, religious music around me, that made me want to always get up and dance.
I especially enjoyed the meals that everyone shared together, always having new people to learn things about or even just to sit back and laugh. The Convention really helped me to see my religion in the eyes of many others. It was awesome to be on my own, like a young adult and I feel very lucky and special to have spent this time in Dallas, Texas. Thank you!