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The Campaign for Youth Empowerment

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The following is a transcript of the speech given by NFTY President Debbie Rabinovich at the closing plenary of NFTY Convention 2015.

DebbieSomething I’ve realized time and time again over the last few years and especially this weekend is that NFTYites have the power to make great change.

Throughout the weekend I’ve seen countless NFTY moments- moments in which you just have “that NFTY feeling.” This is the feeling you get when you’re in the middle of a group or conversation, and you realize that NFTY is where you need to be. Somewhere along the way we all found that NFTY was a place where we could take risks, where we would always have someone in our corner, and where we made an impact.

There’s a reason why NFTY makes us feel this way: NFTYites give each other the power to move our movement forward. This is the force that drives NFTY to foster dynamic leadership, to be change agents, to lead revolutions.

I had a really excellent conversation recently- a NFTY moment, if you will. I was talking to Joy Friedman, who is helping NFTY with our work on gun violence prevention and somehow we got on the topic of the meaning of the word power. In Spanish, which I’ve grown up speaking, the word for power is poder, but the word poder means more than power- it’s also a verb that means “to can” or “to be able to.” Having power means having the ability and drive to do something. Being part of NFTY helps every one of us see something and say, “I can.”  I can do that. I can change that. I can improve that. I can make a difference.

This year, the theme of NFTY Mechina, the event that has historically trained all of our regional boards, was “Elevating Teen Leadership in Reform Jewish Life”. We realized that teen leadership didn’t just look like the 6 or 10 regional board members, it looked like them and songleaders and ruach chairs and every teen who helps make those NFTY moments happen. This has been a theme this entire year. Earlier this weekend you met Maya Rosenberg and SaraAnn Stanway, who came to Netzer Veida in Jerusalem with me, challenging the tradition of bringing only members of the North American Board. Yesterday, about one third of our leaders sitting around the table at NFTY Asefah were not members of their regional boards. All of these people have said, “I can.” And they have. They have said that the power is theirs, because in NFTY and in life, we get to do that. NFTY encourages active participation in all that we do. Teens have power, we just have to reach out and grab it.

People say that NFTY is made up of future leaders. We have just heard about how in the past 75 years, NFTY has led the entire Reform movement in pushing boundaries and toppling barriers. For the past 75 years NFTYites have been world changers and dream chasers. I know that together we are going to build on this legacy to continue to expand NFTY – the number of youth who are involved and, more importantly, their power. This audacity has come to distinguish all parts of our movement, and will continue to do so for years to come. This is the spirit that we use to reach the NFTYites of tomorrow. Together, we strengthen NFTY with big ideas and real goals and wholehearted dedication.

NFTYites aren’t future leaders. NFTYites are leaders right now.

When NFTYites reach out and empower each other, NFTY becomes so much more than a vehicle for the Campaign for Youth Engagement. Empowerment goes a step above engagement- it means that more teens are participating at higher levels; it means that we make this organization into a movement. Youth engagement isn’t enough. If we can change our frame of mind and begin to think of youth engagement as youth empowerment, with more leaders and more participants, NFTY will move into the next 75 years better than ever before.

What would it look like for the Campaign for Youth Engagement to be the Campaign for Youth Empowerment? I don’t want to be engaged, I want to be empowered. Our movement needs to be one that doesn’t stop when it’s just getting good- enough is not enough. Empower me. Empower us. Empower teens. Give power to those who will make NFTY stronger: it’s members. NFTY will be stronger for one reason: we know that in NFTY, we cannot fail, so we are a movement of doers- people who can.