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Small Teen, Big Voice

Eva Turner is a member of NFTY Southwest and from Scottsdale, Arizona.

I came to the URJ Biennial as a TYG President and regional head Songleader. Within an hour of my arrival to the hotel, I was up songleading at the exhibit opening. The event has been a whirlwind of education and resolutions. But, one event in particular stands out.

As Reform Jews, we pride ourselves on inclusion, or to borrow the words of Rabbi Rick Jacobs: Audacious Hospitality. As our secular communities start to progress toward embracing the LGBT community, so does the URJ. It was an honor and a privilege to be present as the resolution of the URJ affirming the full quality and acceptance of transgender and non-gender conforming individuals was unanimously passed. When the resolution was read, there was a portion of it that specifically mentioned inclusion in NFTY.

This past summer, I went to Mechina at the URJ Kutz camp as a Songleader. I was at the Asefah where we passed a resolution about preferred gender pronouns, so seeing NFTY specifically mentioned in a resolution about transgender rights made me wonder what else could be in store. When the discussion opened, I got up and walked right up to the front microphone, introduced myself and asked what the resolution would mean specifically for NFTY, and how it would impact us as NFTYites.

Forgetting where I was for a second, I expected to hear the typical response I have received from adults in the past. Being brushed aside as a teenager is something I have grown fairly accustomed to. A brief silence followed my question before being met with incredible enthusiasm. The woman responding to me thanked me for raising the question. She affirmed that NFTY’s work is making strong strides now – and guarantees the continuation of this work in the future. She expressed her joy to see a teenager taking interest in her future, as well as the future of the Jewish teen movement. This was met with a loud round of applause from thousands of people sitting in the morning plenary. She went on to explain how, while they have no specific plans for NFTY, they know how important inclusion is in NFTY and are making efforts to figure out specific ways to improve on an already inclusive and safe community.

eva-turner-11-300x286Her response made me smile as I walked away from the microphone, I felt completely respected as a human. I later expressed to Mr. Steve Sacks, outgoing URJ chairman of the Board of Trustees, that I, as a bisexual, am incredibly moved that the URJ, being a big part of my life, is taking such a step towards inclusion and that, as a teen, I felt not only respected – but valued. People have been approaching me, thanking me for speaking, telling me what an important question I raised, and how proud they were that a teenager could stand up and ask about a resolution in front of thousands.

This is why biennial is such an incredible experience. Being here has opened my eyes to the necessity of a teen voice and the power we have to impact decisions that may seem bigger than we are. I am excited to learn and grow this weekend with 5,000 other Jews from around the world who all have different voices and opinions. There is something to take away from everyone and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from so many amazing people here in Orlando.