Blog  NFTY-PAR: WINSTY Friday T’filah D’var

NFTY-PAR: WINSTY Friday T’filah D’var

January 18, 2013

By Rabbi Ben David and Alex Mckeen (AEFTY President), Adath Emanu-El, Mt. Laurel, NJ 

I look back twenty years and remember a life of youth group and friendship and no shortage of uncertainty.  I look back to high school, my senior year, and remember all of those college applications.  I remember thinking about what it would mean to move from a place of familiar to unfamiliar.  I remember thinking about what it would mean to leave for some place new and I remember thinking that it was reassuring to have with me a set of values and ideas that I could bring with me always: a sense of hope and a sense of perspective that Judaism granted me.  I remember thinking that a new journey awaited me and that this was a good thing, like the Israelites on a new journey, and that that journey, with all of the tests and all of the late nights and all of the early mornings, would make me the adult and the rabbi and the community member that I knew deep down inside I had within me.

I look forward twenty years, past high school, past college, and I hope the friends I’ve made in school and youth group to stay with me for a very long time.  I know they will.  I look forward with hope and with excitement, like the Israelites at the start of a great new journey.  I look forward to graduating from Ithaca College in the field of Television and Radio Production to help me get my first job in NBC Universal Studios. In twenty years, I look forward to continuing to live on the East Coast and continuing to practice my precious faith, a faith, and a set of ideas, that have come to mean so much to me and always will.  I look forward to late night and early mornings and all of the tests these next years will bring.  I look forward to becoming the adult and the community leader that I can be.

I look back twenty years at what my relationship with Israel was then, a place that was mythic and so distant to me as a teenager.  I had heard about it but hardly seen it up close.  I remember thinking, ‘peace,’ there will be peace there in my lifetime.  It felt like a promise, one re-asserted every time I heard the words to ‘Hatikvah.’  I remember thinking about a Homeland that was as old as time itself and somehow grounded my own fleeting problems.  I remember thinking that Israel, the place, the symbol, the people – all of it gave all of us such inspiration and courage.  I remember learning the stories of David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir.  I remember hoping that I would one day see Israel with my own children, and theirs.

I look forward twenty years at what Israel is going to become, a place of peace and love, a place of safe haven for her citizens and for Judaism. I look forward to finally seeing Israel, this otherwise mythic place, for the very first time, with my own eyes. I look forward to Israel not dividing people, but uniting them, as I know it can.  Like Yithak Rabin and Gilad Shalit, symbols of Israel’s resolve, I also look forward to being one of the people who always says, ‘I support Israel.’  I look forward to all of us speaking up and speaking out and saying, ‘I support Israel,’ without worry.  I will say, ‘peace, there is peace in Israel, peace in my lifetime.’

I look back twenty years at how I saw the Reform movement when I was a teen.  I was a member of a vibrant and real community, NFTY.  It is the place where I found a sense of home and belonging.  I spent my summers at Camp Harlam and more weekends than I can count at PAR events.  I spoke the language of tikkun olam and hesed.  It was Lecha Dodi and Veshamru.  It was birkat hamazon and song session.  It was energy and acceptance.  It was love for each other and love for Judaism.  School days were for counting down the days to Fall Kallah or WINSTY.  Holidays were for seeing friends from Lower Merion or Yardley or Pittsburgh or Cheltenham.

I look forward twenty years at how the Reform movement has changed since I was a teen. I look forward to continuing to support the group that has always supported me, NFTY.  I look forward to NFTY and Reform Judaism growing, as we grow.  I look forward to seeing it expand to accomplish so many amazing things, more things, include more kids, inspire more Jewish leaders, bring more people closer to Torah. I look forward to looking back with pride on my magical years in NFTY and at the URJ Kutz Camp.  I look forward to keeping my connection, to them, to you, to my temple youth group, AEFTY.  I look forward to staying in touch with friends from Cherry Hill and Allentown, Bensalem and New Hope.  I will continue to speak the language of youth group and tikkun olam.  I will speak the language of hesed.

I look back at what my relationship with God was.  What was the God I believed in when I was a teenager?  It was a God that was personal and understanding, a God that recognized what it meant to struggle to be accepted, as Abraham did, understood what it meant to wrestle with Torah, as Jacob did, and helped me understand words like ‘patience.’  It was a God I heard in the playing of guitar and in our swaying back and forth.  It was a God I found in friendship and in trust.  It was a God that so many teens have turned to and returned to, again and again and again, from the very first days of Judaism.  It was a God that was both enormous and mine, for everyone and for you alone.

I look forward to my future relationship with God. What is the God that I will believe in twenty years from now? It is a God that was always there and always guided me.  I look forward to walking with God on my day-to-day journeys, my quest for a good life, my life, a life of meaning, a life of family.  A life of friendship and trust.  It is a God that will continue to help me understand the words of our Torah and words like courage and patience.  It is a God I will turn to and return to, again and again, as so many teens have, a constant amidst all of the changes and all of the years.


I look back.
I look ahead.
They are two paths.
But they are one path.
These are two voices.
But we are all one voice.
A voice of memory.
And a voice of hope.
A voice for what was.
A voice for what can be.
A need to see where we were.
And a need to dream of where we can go.
A sense of gratitude for right now, this Shabbat, this moment.
A sense of gratitude for right now, this sacred time, this sacred place.
We are one voice.
We are all one voice.
We are blessed.
Shabbat Shalom.

-AEFTY Board