By Andrew Keene, NFTY President
This past summer, at the URJ Kutz Camp, the NFTY board taught the words of this song to the NFTY General Board. The song made its way into dinnertime song session and Shabbat Shira. At times I found myself humming the song as I walked through camp. It wasn’t until I spent a week with Netzer snif, RSY (Reform Synagogue Youth UK) this past December did I truly understand what it means to be a pioneer of Netzer.
Upon arriving at the Sternberg Center, the hub of the Reform Movement in the United Kingdom, I was immediately thrown into an alternate universe, not so dissimilar from NFTY. Teens arrived and a series of games and GTKY (Get to Know You – Mixers) activities began. In a matter of moments, I began reliving my first NFTY event.
Several hours later, we arrived in Lichfield, the site of Sheleg (RSY Winter Camp), where my friend and NFTY alum and I would serve as madrichim (resident advisors). The chanichim (campers) ranged in age from grade 3 to 10 and the theme of the weekend was Reform Judaism. Programs ranged from the history of Reform Judaism to choose your own adventure t’filah experiences. In between, airtime was filled with numerous chants, cheers, and songs and everyone joined in. At meal times, the dining hall had enough ruach to fill a concert hall.
In addition to ruach, I was thoroughly impressed by the level of mentorship that existed between madrichim and chanichim- it sets the stage for a kehila kedosha, a holy community. As NFTY opens its doors to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, we can learn from RSY the ways in which older teens serve in these mentorship capacities as well as how to best engage this younger age group. It is vitally important NFTY and RSY share best practices to better our movements.
Spending nearly a week with RSY gave me a new look at Reform Judaism. It is truly an eye-opening experience to immerse yourself in another Jewish culture. While I always knew NFTY was part of a larger movement, experiencing another piece of the puzzle truly connected me to it. While NFTY is contained only to North America, an entire worldwide progressive movement surrounds us. In order to truly embrace our part in a worldwide movement, our connections with Reform Jewish peers in all corners of the world must be a priority.
A relationship is a constant evolution and cannot be neglected for it to be healthy. This year, NFTY as a whole has made huge strides in growing our connection to Netzer. In addition to RSY, representatives of NFTY attended a Netzer South Africa event as well as the Netzer Veida Olamit (worldwide meeting), as well as participating in the Shnat Netzer Gap Year Course.
As NFTY approaches its 10-year anniversary of membership in Netzer Olami, we need to commit to:
- More exchanges. The on-the-ground interaction between NFTY leaders and other Netzer snif leaders needs to be an ongoing practice, not a once-in-a-decade experience. We need to constantly be learning from other sniffim on the ground here, and there.
- More regional programming and education. It is imperative that NFTYites not only are aware of our Netzer membership but also the responsibility that comes along with this. Each member of NFTY is also a direct member of Netzer. We need to be proactive with our Netzer relationship, not passive.
- More engagement of Shnat Netzer returnees. Currently there is virtually no place for returning “Shnatties” in our movement. Every year, select teens opt to enrich their Reform Jewish lives and skill-sets without an outlet for sharing their experience. We need to create a movement that is as wide as it is deep.
NFTY is proud to be a member of Netzer Olami. We need to be proud to be participatory and active in it as well. One of NFTY’s 13 Principles is “Shutafut” or “partnership.” If we cannot position NFTY at all levels to be partners with our brother and sister sniffim, we are faltering from one of the core values NFTY stands on.
In the second decade of our relationship with Netzer, we truly need to be the “Pioneers of Netzer!”