By Zach Heiman, NFTY-MV President
It’s not easy to describe to somebody who isn’t in NFTY why it’s so special. How do you describe how a few events every year with people whom you may not know all that well come together to create such an incredible experience? I wasn’t sure how to answer that question, and I still may not be, but my experiences at NFTY Veida 2014 helped me to come closer to reaching an answer to that question.
I stepped off the plane in Dallas, Texas on a Thursday morning, ready for my adventure to begin. The first event on my agenda for the following five days was BBYO’s International Convention. I, like a lot of other people in NFTY, had mixed feelings about BBYO. It’s not to say that I didn’t like BBYO, but I think that I failed to understand what drew people to it as opposed to NFTY. The purpose of my and about 40 other NFTY General Board Members’ attendance at this event was to address these feelings and to discuss why there has been such a competition between NFTY and BBYO. The biggest focus of the 24 hours we spent together was on working together, not against each other. Together as NFTY and BBYO, we participated in a program that put an emphasis on Jewish teen engagement.
If I learned one thing from this program, it was that we aren’t doing enough to engage Jewish teens in North America. BBYO and NFTY together are only reaching 3.5% of the Jewish teens in North America. I, and everyone else in the room, came to the conclusion that instead of bickering over the measly 3.5%, we should work hard to reach out to the 96.5% that aren’t engaged. It’s not a competition to see who can have the most members, instead it is our duty as NFTYites and BBYOers to work to engage as many teens as possible, together. Throughout this meeting of the two organizations, we also had the opportunity to reach out to our counterparts from the same geographical areas in order to discuss potential joint-programming. By no means are the two organizations merging, but instead we are attempting to bridge the gap between “us” and “them,” because in the end, we all have the same goals.
On Friday afternoon, we took a bus to Greene Family Camp, only a couple hours away. It is here that we met up with the rest of the General Board who would be joining us for the remainder of the weekend. I was beyond excited, having the opportunity to catch up with the friends I made on NFTY in Israel, at Kutz, Biennial, and Convention from years past. After a beautiful Shabbat service and dinner, we moved into our first Asefah session. Asefah (similar to Missouri Valley’s General Assembly), is a board meeting with all of the regional boards (at least those in attendance), where we pass legislation, elect North American Board members, and vote on the Study and Action Themes for the following year. Since it was Shabbat and we could not conduct “official” business, this Asefah session consisted of the authors of the Study and Action themes reading their proposals. If I got one thing out of this Asefah session, it was excitement for the future of NFTY. I found myself upset that I would not be around to see these Study and Action Themes in action.
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to split up into regions and meet with each candidate for North American Board, individually. For five minutes, the candidate was able to talk a little bit about him/herself and answer any questions that we had. There were 12 very qualified and high-quality candidates running, including Missouri Valley’s own Jacob Maier, for board positions.
Our last Asefah session was scheduled for Saturday night, following Havdallah. At this Asefah we voted on the Study and Action Themes and also elected the 2014-2015 North American Board. The Study Theme that was passed is “Am Yisrael v’HaShem — The People Israel and God: NFTY Wrestles with God”. The thing that I liked most about this Study Theme was its push to start a discussion that we rarely have in NFTY: what our relationship with God is and why it matters. “Shivyon | Equality – NFTY Addresses Gender and Sexuality Equality” is the Action Theme that was passed. NFTY as an organization has been one of the first in the Jewish community to address gender and sexuality equality and education, and I feel that by focusing on it next year, we will be able to make groundbreaking changes in the way teens and the Jewish people include others with genders and sexualities different than their own. Finally, we voted on the North American Board members for next year. I am beyond excited that Missouri Valley will have its first NFTYite on NAB since my freshman year. The North American Board members that were elected are as follows:
President – Debbie Rabinovich
Programming Vice President – Scott Rubenstein
Social Action Vice President – Olivia Kessler
Religious and Cultural Vice President – Max Spivak
Membership Vice President – Talia Capozzoli
Communications Vice President – Jacob Maier
On Sunday, each network got the chance to meet and catch up on what they have been doing in their regions the past year. In the President Network, we discussed prioritizing our roles as Presidents and chose two responsibilities that we felt were most essential to serving as a Regional President. We also had the opportunity to participate in programming to help us grow as leaders and to become more informed on things that are going on in the Jewish community. Through ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, we participated in a program to help send a Torah to a Reform congregation in Israel that does not have one. The day closed with a laid-back social program and some time to hang out with people from other regions.
On Monday, when it was time to go, I was sad to leave. I had learned so much and built so many strong relationships that I was not ready to give up. This weekend had empowered me, making me feel like I was the part of not just an organization, not just a group of Reform Jewish teens, but a movement. NFTY is a movement that strives to grow leaders and make stances on real world issues. In a few short months my time in NFTY will be over, but the relationships I have built and the skills I have gained will last me a lifetime. NFTYites are not just the future leaders of the Reform movement, they are its leaders. The thing that makes NFTY so special, the thing that makes NFTY what it is, is its ability to make Reform Jewish teens feel relevant in the Jewish movement and to empower its leaders to reach their fullest potential.