Just over two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending and participating in URJ Biennial.
Throughout that weekend, NFTY created our own campaign that was displayed on our event t-shirts; submitted entries for the NFTY book in line with the study theme of personal expression; learned about the Campaign for Youth Engagement; and – of course – heard President Obama speak. He even mentioned NFTY twice! I even had the opportunity to shake his hand! Directly preceding his speech, we celebrated the Religious Action Center’s 50th anniversary, during which I spoke alongside Rabbi David Saperstein, Mark Pelavin, Jennifer Kaufman, Rabbi Al Vorspan, Wendy Wallach-Delucia, Rabbi David Stern, Allison Grossman, and Julie Silver, each of us sharing our perspectives on how the RAC makes a difference.
All throughout Biennial, I thought to myself: “This is what it’s all about.”
And then last week, I traveled to NFTY Northeast’s December Institute at URJ Eisner Camp, where I once again found myself thinking: “This is what it’s all about.”
During the course of five days I had the utmost pleasure of being immersed into the NE community—a true kehillah k’doshah. The event’s theme was “mistakes,” and the programming covered all aspects: the difference between accidents and mistakes; the importance of perspective; taking responsibility for our mistakes; the Jewish perspective of how to make decisions in difficult situations; the power of the positive; and understanding the power in a word, examining the social action aspects of choices we make on a day-to-day basis. We also learned about decision-making in the Torah, led by our outstanding faculty of TYG advisors; understood NFTY and NE terms through the lens of Nemo, the mascot, through skits from “Finding Nemo”; and made the best of friends during hofesh (free time) and the talent show.
Since it is difficult to encompass the richness of this event, I’d like to highlight some of the most meaningful moments…
• One of the most unique parts of this event for me was getting to know the region’s leadership structure. Before each Institute, the overalls, officers, and PCs meet at camp a day before the event to go over programs, materials needed, and the general schedule of the event. Overalls are the 5 or 6 seniors chosen for each institute to help the officers write and execute the programming; the 10 PCs – short for ‘prayer coordinators’ – work with the RCVP to plan all of the services throughout the event. Part of the behind the scenes work includes making up program packs for each program’s group leaders so all the materials are already split up and ready to go. I saw for myself, in being a group leader for most programs, how the beforehand meetings culminated into running such a seamless event.
• As many of you know, NFTY-NE has a nominations process as opposed to a direct election. Basically, during the nominations process, the regional board and the advisor create a team of ten individuals to be next year’s officers. The process is lengthy and goes through many stages: examining characteristics desirable for a leader; considering each and every junior, since all officers are seniors; and making sure there is a geographical and gender balance among those chosen. Once that year’s officers compile a slate of ten individuals, the candidates are notified and asked if they would like the position. If one of those people decide they would not like the position, the board considers the team in choosing a replacement. When the slate is released to the region, any junior can challenge the slate and run for a position. Then, the region considers all candidates – slated and those that challenge – and elect NE’s regional board at Spring Conclavette, and installed at their Senior Kallah where the torch is then passed from the seniors to the juniors—quite a #generationalleadership moment!
• NFTY-NE was happy to welcome Beth Avner, NFTY’s Director of Education and Special Projects, as a visitor at December Institute. Part of Beth’s visit consisted of starting conversations about the nominations process, in seeing how it affects candidates, the region, and all of NFTY. As a result of starting the conversation, for the first time in Northeast’s history, the juniors who attended Insty compiled a list of characteristics of leaders in a meeting ran by NE regional board alumni. Yet another moment of #generationalleadership! Having the juniors help to compile the list of traits the board will look at in deciding next year’s leaders ensured their participation in having their peers assume those leadership roles.
• Understanding the nominations process helps me realize how important it is to recognize and respect that each region has its own traditions and traits that, together, make all nineteen into the NFTY we know and love.
T’FILAH—ONE JEWISH COMMUNITY
• At Institute, each of the 10 PCs write and lead a service, meaning we pray twice each day. This aspect of a NFTY was new to me personally; in doing so, I could sense how much more meaningful the programming and even being together as one Jewish community seemed. Throughout Institute, we sang our favorite prayer melodies and listened to significant readings. I will never forget how we were asked to take off our watches in order to live in the moment. Nor will I forget how we were blindfolded and felt lost, accentuating what it means to be transient, be lost, to lose, be found, or to find. I will always remember how incredible it was to visually see our glowsticks, symbolizing our own sparks, in addition to the candles we lit in memory of various demographics in need, gradually fill the space with a light that I know will never go out, as the words of “Firework” echoed in our ears.
• Each night of Institute, the region gathered for siyuum, where we sang the bedtime shema, along with songs like “Song for the Divine Mother of the Universe” and “Lord Prepare Me.” Intermittently, we had the chance to reflect on the day through reading aloud mitzvah notes, recounting all the mitzvot our friends performed. The energy flowing throughout the room every night reminded me of how powerful it is to be a part of any NFTY community. Knowing that regions all over North America sing the same songs and feel the same emotions by experiencing them in a brand new region with people whom I had only known for five days—that was remarkable.
• Part of the magic of NFTY is coming to an event knowing about 15 people, and leaving the event with 150 new friends, as I did during this experience. Getting to know people on a personal level was definitely one of my favorite parts of this event, from living with three junior girls to leading conversations in programs that led to pertinent applications of Judaism to our every day lives. I really felt like I rediscovered that magic, as the awkward introductions of name, TYG, and a silly fact, turned into hugs of see you later over the course of just those five days.
• The new friendships created are just as meaningful to me as reuniting with old friends, like seeing the NE regional board all together for the first time since Mechina. Roey Schiff, NFTY’s shaliach, also visited NE and gave a shpiel about URJ Israel programs. There were several URJ Kutz Camp alumni I got to see. There were a few NE board alumni with whom it was great to catch up, especially someone I went on the SAVP trip with two years ago. I even ran into a former URJ Camp Coleman counselor who is now a NE TYG advisor!
The reflections I shared above are only some of the fantastic memories created at URJ Eisner Camp with NFTY-NE. I would like to sincerely thank everyone at NE that welcomed me; I look forward to our friendships blossoming. Thank you especially to Rachel Mersky Woda, Brett Lubarsky, and the board—keep working to foster NE as an extraordinary community. As we move in to this new year, and head back to work and school after the holidays, let us keep in mind the importance of the event’s theme: mistakes. Living with them, taking responsibility, and learning from them. But make no mistake…it was hardly a mistake that I attended Insty and remembered: “This is what it’s all about.”
To see pictures from the event, Click Here!