By Stephen White, DVM
I was President of NFTY 1971-1972. After my presidency, I founded, with my best friend (and former treasurer of our youth group) a Jewish student newspaper called Leviathan, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, which is still being published today. After I graduated and went to veterinary school, I had only minimal contact with the Reform movement, other than going to synagogue, Passover seders, and keeping in touch with my friends from the youth group and region, and a few from NFTY.
I therefore only knew very third-hand that NFTY’s regions had been renamed, and that there were now NFTY conventions. About 25 years ago, I reconnected with Mark Anshan, the NFTY president the year before me, and aside from rekindling our friendship, I feel fortunate because it was he who suggested I attend the NFTY at 75 convention in Atlanta in February of 2015.
You will forgive my surprise when I saw these over 1000 NFTYites evidence their spirit in the one full day that I attended. Surprise, because throughout my NFTY career, there were never more than perhaps 300 or so of us in the same place at the same time. Surprise, yes, but also I was totally impressed, and it made me happy, to see all these young men and women passionate about both the things that NFTY stands for, as well as their friendships with one another. That is truly the best thing that happens – those friendships. I have always been astounded as to what happens when I occasionally meet with someone from my youth group, region or NFTY days that I haven’t seen in many years: there seems to be an immediate connection that is both tangible and yet difficult to define, other than joyful. This was certainly brought home to me yet again at the convention when I met NFTY friends that I hadn’t seen in 43 years. It was like we all picked up where we left off. Yes, we were all older, and we had some new subjects of conversation (kids, grandkids, etc) but the old warmth was certainly still there.
I was gratified that the organizers of this reunion of NFTY presidents had enabled us to meet with the president of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I realized I was the only one there that went into science. I also smiled when Rabbi Jacobs mentioned his Camp Swig counselor, who was a contemporary of mine.
I went to my region’s meeting (NFTY-SoCal) before the plenary and witnessed the spirit of the members. I introduced myself to the president and the advisor, and they graciously asked me to say a few words. I don’t think I said anything profound, but I do remember saying that before I was president of NFTY, I was president of SCFTY, at which one person said, “My mom was in SCFTY.” I suppose this could have made me feel old, but mainly it made me feel glad–I felt I was part of a continuity, and perhaps even more important, that the NFTYites in that room were part of a continuity.
Finally, it is difficult to express the emotions I felt when at the plenary I (like the other former NFTY presidents) stood in the spotlight and essentially renewed our connection to NFTY. It was an amazing experience. I will be forever grateful to have attended NFTY at 75.