Jessica Stone is a senior from NFTY Ohio Valley. She serves as regional Social Action Vice President.
It was such a surreal feeling as I sat in the senior circle of my final NFTY event. I can’t help but think back to the person I was at my first event: just a little eighth grader who had no idea what lie ahead of me. I would give anything to take my younger self aside and explain all of the things I would do in the future, the people I would meet and the opportunities I would have; all thanks to NFTY.
It all started four long years ago at NFTY-OV Regionals 2011. My temple hosted the event and my older sister forced me to go. I was really unsure about the whole thing. At the time I was shy and NFTY didn’t really seem like my kind of thing. But, I knew how much she loved it, and if she loved it, I obviously had to hate it, right? However I conceded to appease her just this once. When the weekend began I was feeling very apprehensive, but immediately fell in love with everything about NFTY. My parents were crazy enough to agree to house nine teenage girls for the weekend; these amazing girls just so happened to be seniors and NFTY veterans. They took me under their wings and showed me the ropes of NFTY. The welcoming and accepting community of the girls in our house and Ohio Valley as a whole was something I absolutely loved and had never experienced before in my life.
As we returned to the Stone house for the night, the girls were reflecting on their own NFTY careers. The stories they told and memories they shared left me in awe. I could never imagine myself being a part of experiences anywhere close to amazing as theirs. Together they came to the conclusion that they didn’t want to write the traditional senior will and leave only vague memories and inside jokes to their friends remaining in NFTY. They decided instead to write a song, something concrete to leave behind, that they could share with everyone for NFTY generations to come. We all worked together to grasp the words and melodies that would hopefully come close to capture the feelings that NFTY brought to all of us. We sat together our my living room collaborating, laughing, reminiscing and creating something truly beautiful. After a very long night, the song was finally done, and aptly named Strong as Stone.
Soon, the time came for NFTY prom and their senior circle. Sitting in the outer circle I listened to them tell even more incredible stories, sharing their bits of wisdom, and getting emotional at the thought of their NFTY careers coming to a close. Then came the moment of truth. They wanted to perform the song in front of everyone. I was so incredibly nervous. I’m not the most talented singer, and I didn’t understand the concept of sharing something so personal with such a large group of people. We all gathered around Alissa and her beautifully decorated guitar, and sang in front of everyone. I was so afraid everyone would think the whole thing was weird; I always thought this was something you just didn’t do. But, they loved it; I have never felt more accepted or a greater sense of community than in that moment. I finally understood why NFTY meant so much to my sister, and why she wanted more than anything for me to experience it. Everything finally made sense; why she stayed up all night video chatting with friends from across the country and why she would drive hours on end for event after event just to have that experience. The senior girls bade me the task of making sure their legacy and the song lived on in the hearts of NFTYites as long as I could. They wanted me to make sure it stayed relevant for me, as well as all of Ohio Valley. This song will always be incredibly meaningful to me; it represents the beginning of NFTY: the best part of my life, a connection to those girls, Ohio Valley, and my sister.
With my own senior circle coming up, I knew Strong As Stone had to be incorporated. I arranged for two of our song leaders to learn the music and made sure it would be played for everyone again. The time finally came for my speech; I always knew this moment would come, but I couldn’t believe it had actually arrived. I stood up to share my words of wisdom with the region and tell my story about how it all began. I was walking around the circle talk about my journey, and I turned to my friends on the outside of the circle, I saw my sister walk through the doors. She hugged me and tears filled both of our eyes. I finished my speech in the embrace of my sister, and then we sang Strong as Stone, together, as the region joined with us.
It was such an emotional moment for me to be saying goodbye to NFTY and sharing something so special with Ohio Valley. To have my sister be a part of it was amazing. NFTY is one thing in this world that we both love and it has brought us so much closer together. I am so honored to continue the Strong As Stone legacy for the beautiful girls I housed with just over four years ago. I am not even close to the same person I was when this all began. Thanks to NFTY, my sister, and this song I have grown exponentially in countless ways, but singing Strong As Stone was just as meaningful at Spring Kallah 2015 as it was at Regionals 2011.