I would say it took me nearly two years of event attendance and Facebook conversations with its members to become comfortable in NFTY-Northern. So when I packed my bags for my trip to NFTY-Southwest, I wondered how I was to reach that same level of comfort in just four days of being with them. But that wondering turned out to be a waste of time. From the moment I was greeted at the baggage claim at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada to the moment the last of the participants hugged me before getting on the bus to leave on Sunday morning, I felt like I was home again… home in regional NFTY, a place I hadn’t been in seven months and a place that NFTY-SW so graciously welcomed me to at their Fall Kallah.
SW covers places like El Paso, Phoenix, Vegas, and Albuquerque (to name a few), meaning that they fly participants in from all over. I, being used to the busing of NFTYites from either Minnesota or Wisconsin, was immediately blown away by the dedication these teens have to their region. It takes a lot out of teens to fly to a regional event. Yet, when I asked a few of them about it, they told me they “wouldn’t change that for anything” and would “fly anywhere, any distance to see these friends.”
The devotion these Southwest NFTYites have to their community became even clearer throughout the weekend. Never once did I notice groups of teens excluding others from their friendships or keeping themselves away from the main group. Color Wars (go green team!) ran throughout the weekend, and, while each team was made up of guys and girls from different areas and grades, still, I noticed no division within or amongst the factions. There were chants created by each grade, building a bond within each class in the region. And the programming put together for the weekend brought everyone together; whether participants shared what makes each of them beautiful, looked into breaking down the walls that are responsible for human divides, or challenged each other’s opinions about reshaping ritual and cultural values in Israel, everyone’s voice was heard.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sturdy traditions of NFTY-Southwest. Since I first heard of the region, the words “friendship circle” seemed to be a humongous deal to them. That’s an understatement, as far as I’m concerned. All day I heard whispers of “Are we doing shoes tonight?” and “They better play the best songs!” One night the seniors displayed their wooden ships with many an inside joke and laugh. I was worried for the underclassmen who might find this part of the weekend alienating and cliquey, but every senior’s speech was directed at them, rather than members of the senior class. Each senior urged the younger teens (and especially the 50 new members, an incredible number and need for a major mazel tov to NFTY-SW) to continue coming to NFTY. Some speeches even ended with silly ultimatums and fake warnings about what the seniors would do if they found out their younger siblings didn’t return to future kallot.
Walking around at Fall, I saw a unique kind of engagement in NFTY-SW. There seems to be this aura of “you get out of it what you put into it.” During any one of the programs, some participants would be in the program, some would be leading it, and others would be helping set up for the next activity. Some would even be learning song-leading tips from one of NFTY’s own musical celebrities, Alan Goodis, who was also at Fall. Others shared stories from their times in Israel, after having heard Jesse Paikin’s presentation about NFTY trips to Israel and gap year opportunities. It was very refreshing to see everyone chip in to assure that the weekend would run as smoothly and successfully as it did. I can just imagine how fulfilling it must be to know that each NFTYite in Southwest contributes something tangible to the community.
Finally, a huge shout-out to the regional board and Lynne Butner for their leadership and the legacies they are leaving in SW. While NFTY-SW is truly youth-led (by Mat, Dori, Lizzie, Naomi, David, and Kaylen), Lynne and the phenomenal TYG advisors are such a strong and passionate support system for Southwest’s 100+ teenagers. Thank you to everyone, including my new NFTY-SW friends, who made this weekend such a joy for me. I can confidently claim that now, after only four days in NFTY-Southwest, I am as comfortable there as I ever was in Northern. I am so filled with warmth and so thrilled that I can add Southwest to my list of homes within NFTY.