By Sarah Freyd, NFTY-NW Member
For myself, an avid NFTYite and Jewish camper, going to NFTY events and various other Jewish events throughout the year is something I do without thinking about it much. For events like my regional ones and even NFTY Convention, it’s a no-brainer that I will attend, as a majority of my friends and connections are within the Jewish youth. Other events take a little more convincing. Though they are riskier, these events end up being some of the most valuable. “Binah: Jewish Learning Institute for Teens – NFTY at 75” was, by all means, one of these events.
I learned about Binah at my regional Fall Kallah, and though I’d heard of it before, it didn’t seem realistic that I could go, considering the travel implications and the business of the school year. After a rabbinical student suggested we go, my best friend and I signed up last minute, not knowing what to expect of an event like this. When we arrived at the HUC-JIR campus on a sunny Cincinnati day, the staff (a dream-team of rabbinic interns and leaders who I had the privilege of spending the weekend with) and the other participants welcomed us with open arms, and I immediately felt at home. As cliché as it sounds, this kind of welcome foreshadowed not only an unforgettable weekend, but the building of a community where I could fully be myself and express my ideas. This, I’ve learned, is truly rare.
Not only was the atmosphere rare, but the opportunities I had at Binah were, too. With access to the American Jewish Archives, I touched the history of the Reform Jewish youth movement – something I value most – with my bare hands. Along with some of the most amazing Jewish teens I’ve met, I compared the original 1939 NFTY Constitution with the most recent one. I saw how this movement had evolved and changed with the times over the last 75 years, but also how at the core, NFTYites from then and now share so much of the same vision and values. Never before had I felt part of something so significant and full of life, and experiencing the archives was, amazingly, only a small part of what inspired this feeling.
Events like NFTY Convention, with 800+ teens, inevitably influence this kind of sentiment about the movement, and quite frankly, it’s astonishing. Binah, size wise, is the opposite, but didn’t fail to give me this feeling. With a smaller participant number as well as a small staff-participant ratio, the intimacy allowed for connections on a level I’d never before experienced during a weekend event. I didn’t feel like a number, and I thoroughly enjoyed that about Binah. The staff planned a unique set of programs that built upon this intimacy as fellow and future leaders joining together. These programs were truly something special, especially planning our own Friday night Shabbat service. As the RCVP of my TYG, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much about the value of services. Just within the first night, I had already grown so much as a person, Jew, and a leader (corny, but true).
I cannot forget the pure fun I had, too. From eating the famous Skyline chili to seeing the beauty of Plum Street Temple, I experienced Cincinnati in a one-of-a-kind way. We even went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Places and programs like this collectively inspired us to not only make a difference personally, but to bring back what we learned to our own regions and communities. Of course, Binah Top Chef goes near the top of the fun list.
I came out of Binah with a sense of connection to NFTY and Judaism that I never thought possible. I feel inspired by what I learned about this incredible movement and community we are so very lucky to have. This, of course, includes what the future holds. I learned the power this movement has to make a difference, and most importantly, that NFTY is not and never will be finished evolving. It’s our job as leaders to foster this growth while holding onto our core values that we share with NFTYites from 75 years ago.
Being innovative within NFTY and any movement is a risk, and I believe this is a risk worth taking. I believe this is why this movement is so remarkable, and why it always has been. Whether going to an event you’re scared of attending or building the future of a movement, take the risk, for its potential value isn’t worth missing out on.