By Evan Traylor, NFTY North American President
Presented June 25, 2012 at the URJ Kutz Camp
As I stand here looking at this unrolled Torah, the history of our people, it makes me realize something: we have the opportunity to have great relationships with the Jewish people who came before us. This includes our ancestors who stories live in our Torah, as well as our family members of the past. L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation, we are strengthened by the relationships we create with the Jewish people of the past. Relationships tie us together.
I want to tell you a story – and oddly enough, this story isn’t even mine. About two years ago, I was a participant on NFTY in Israel. While we were at one of the last hotels, I am told that I happened to be walking up a hill to the main lobby at the same time that Marlee Ribnick, NFTY MCVP, happened to be walking down that exact hill on the way back to her cabin. We passed right by each other not even truly acknowledging each other’s presence. We saw each other, but there was no interaction. While I don’t quite remember this moment, Marlee says that this is one of the moments that she remembers me by from that Israel trip. Since hearing this story from Marlee, I have wondered: what would our relationship be like today if we had stopped for one minute to have a conversation and get to know each other. What did I miss out on?
Think about these questions for a second: Who got you here? Who are the influential people in your Jewish journey? And how did you create these special relationships? It is amazing to think that some of these relationships began by total and complete accident. However, here’s another question: How would your life be different if you took the initiative to reach to others and created intentional, meaningful relationships?
Within NFTY, we are all brought together by the relationships that are created at Temple Youth Group, regional, and North American events. These relationships create opportunities for both individual as well as communal growth. The more relationships, connections, and interactions we have within our NFTY communities, the stronger we become. Relationships allow us to take NFTY from being a youth group for Reform Jewish teens, to a youth movement for Reform Jewish teens.
So, how do we do this? How do we all take the initiative to reach out to others in our Kutz and NFTY communities and create intentional, meaningful relationships? First, you must make an effort. Walk around at lunch meeting new people or sit with a new group during free time. Step outside of your comfort zone, and allow yourself to experience personal growth. Consider the story in the book of Genesis when Abraham welcomes the strangers who are wandering in the desert. In this story, it is a hot day, an uncomfortable day, and the story literally says “Abraham RUNS up to them”. Be Abraham. Run up to others; make the effort to bring them into your life. Second, know the power of knowing someone’s name. I know that we all met a ton of people yesterday, but how many people’s names do you still remember today? Knowing someone’s name shows that you are truly investing in a relationship or connection with that person. This about the characters we know in the torah. The torah is a collection of stories about people. We have relationships with Moses, with Abraham, with Miriam and with Noah. Do we have a relationship with the 250 who rebelled with Korach? You can walk away from Kutz this summer talking about the 180 campers and 70 staff members – OR – you can walk away with stories about how Jordan influenced this and that great friend Joy, etc. Third, listen. Listen to what that person has to say whenever they introduce themself to you; truly make an effort to invest in who they are and what they need. This week, in Parashat Chukat, we hear the story of Moses hitting the rock to get water. In this scene, the people are whiny, and thirsty, and complaining – and honestly, annoying. Moses got mad. His anger and unwillingness to spend time reassuring the tired, thirsty Israelites and building some trust led to him acting out and disobeying God. Had he spent time building a trusting relationship and being in tune with how the people were feeling and what they needed, maybe the story would have played out differently – maybe the people would have had more trust in Moses and not complained so much.
It is easy to create intentional relationships with other people in our camp or NFTY setting. But how can we intentionally create meaningful relationships with the Jewish people of the past? Think about the history of the Jewish people. We are an incredible people, with an incredible history. However, there is a distinct difference between growing up hearing about the accomplishments of Abraham and Moses, and truly learning and understanding their stories and their impact on the history of the Jewish people. How will you make them a part of your Jewish story moving forward this summer? Which personality from our collective Jewish narrative do you want to get to know better?
As we look ahead to a great summer at the URJ Kutz Camp and an exciting NFTY year, I have a challenge for you: take the initiative to create intentional and meaningful relationships in your life. Reach out to others in your Kutz and NFTY communities and go beyond just a friendly passing; take the time to create an experience and bond with someone else. Take the initiative to ensure that the people you met yesterday at the first day of Kutz, become a part of your story, and the story of the Jewish people.
Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazeik. Chazak – I will strengthen you. Chazak – you will strengthen me. V’Nitchazeik – and we will all be strengthened together!!!