By Jordan Rodnizki, NFTY North American Programming Vice-President
I love the movie Big Fish. Tim Burton often relies on a gothic style over true substance, and I’m usually not his biggest fan. But I think he hit the nail on the head with that particular film, an emotional ode to the power of a great story. NFTY loves the “Edward Blooms” in our movement: the wise, mystical programming experts who impart their expertise and childhood memories – of TYG events and summers spent at URJ Camps – on a legion of curious young Jewish minds. Regional Advisors, Youth Programs Managers, and adult volunteers provide us with the knowledge to become experts of our own: to discover our passions and explore the worlds of religion and culture, social action, and programming.
NFTY is certainly a youth movement, first and foremost. But I don’t know where we’d be without the adults that work behind the scenes. There are those who coordinate our travel equalizations and approve our event budgets (a shout-out to you, Abbye Fogel!). There are the teachers and life-mentors who explode with creative energy and simultaneously emanate with warmth, empathy, and support (hey, Rachel Mersky Woda!). And there are the advisors who become our second mothers and fathers – sometimes stern with always our best interests at heart, yet more often the stunning men and women who love us as their own children and buy us yummy snacks to eat at board meetings (don’t think you were getting off easy, Julie Marsh and Beth Avner!).
The North American Federation of Temple Youth has taught me everything I know. I will not remember high school as a monotonous series of calculus tests and anatomy textbooks. I will remember these years by the milestones in my Jewish journey. My sister, Danielle, practically dragged me to NFTY-STR’s 2008 Hatikvah Kallah. Shabbat shira, intellectually stimulating programming, and services that were beguiling rather than boring made me rethink my outlook on youth group. The relationships I made with my new friends and advisors solidified my desire to return for Fall Kallah my freshman year.
I am forever indebted to Danielle.
We often hear of the concept of a NFTY giant. These are the people who impact us to want to act. Some inspire us to run for Programming Vice President of our TYGs (and then at the regional and North American levels). Some spark a deep-seated frustration within us for global divides and socioeconomic inequalities. Others are simply there for us to cry on their shoulders when the timetable doesn’t work out, when the touchstone text fails to work in context, when the program simply fails.
I would not be the Programming Vice President of the movement I love without the Abbyes, the Rachels, the Julies, the Beths, and the Danielles in my life, and I would not be sitting here typing this blog from a desk at a room we at the Kutz Camp ironically call “the Fishbowl”. I think Edward Bloom would approve.
This year will mark my final year in NFTY, and I hope to serve you with grace, dedication, and unending love for programming. I hope I make my NFTY giants proud. I find it only fitting to end this entry the only way I can: with the final line from one of my favorite movies.
As Will Bloom, Edward’s son said, “A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.” The story will live on after me. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.