By Dylan Davidoff, NFTY Mid Atlantic Region
Music, a universal language that knows no boundaries, and NFTY, a diverse community of Jewish teens from all across North America, came together last weekend in Chicago, IL at NFTY Convention, particularly at Shabbat morning services. As an active NFTY-MARite (Mid-Atlantic Region), I am used to services with fun music but until this weekend, I never realized how close music could bring people who live so far apart.
The feeling of being at home, of joining a family, is something I first felt three years ago at my first NFTY-MAR event. I remember at our Shabbat services I sat there, ready, but nervous at the prospect of praying next to two hundred kids that I didn’t know. But, the next thing I knew one person jumped up and danced and before I knew it I was singing my heart out, too. It then occurred to me that it did not matter who I was, only that we were all Jewish teens, singing and praying together. It was during that first event that I first felt like I had found my family. The people I saw as strangers all those years ago are now my best friends in the world.
I came into NFTY Convention thinking I was part of MAR, so therefore I was a part of NFTY. However, when I walked into the hotel Friday afternoon, I didn’t feel the sense of community that I usually had when walking off the bus at MAR until Saturday morning, when everything changed.
Prior to Shabbat morning services, every participant at Convention was given the opportunity to choose what type of service they wanted to attend: music, spirituality, creative writing, or digital technology. For me, the obvious choice was music, and I was one of the first people in the room. I watched as others poured in, just as excited as I was. We began to sing songs that I was surprised to find I knew and loved. Here I am, sitting next to people I’ve never met, singing along to songs that not only I knew, but we all knew. We jumped out of our seats, standing and dancing and singing with love and passion, and I felt at home. These so-called strangers didn’t feel like strangers anymore but like an incredible family that I finally had the chance to join. It felt just like my first MAR event.
At NFTY Convention, we also focused much of our attention on racial justice. Together, we affirmed our belief that no matter the color of their skin, each person is defined by the actions they pursue and is a vital and meaningful part of our community. NFTY has thousands of teens from all over North America who are diverse in many ways, and we focused on our permanent connection through our Judaism. This unity shined during the Saturday morning music service; it did not matter who we were or what we looked like, we sang together as one.
As I sang at NFTY Convention, I heard all of our voices, all of NFTY, all of Reform Judaism, and all of the world, merging into one harmonious voice, and one harmonious community.