By Joe Lichtenstein from NFTY Mid-Atlantic Region and winner of the 2017 Wendy Blickstein Memorial D’var Torah Competition
Speaking at NFTY Convention 2017 was an amazing experience. Looking out into the crowd and seeing all those faces caused me to step back and really appreciate this movement, where we invest so much of our time. It was the honor of a lifetime to be able to share my words with the community that I call home.
As a Jew from Roanoke, Virginia, I have always considered myself a minority. I’ve unfortunately dealt with anti-Semitic incidents that have been disheartening, to say the least. NFTY has been my haven to come to, where I can explore my Judaism and learn from others.
One of the many blessings that NFTY has brought me is the writing of D’var Torah. It is the perfect opportunity to teach the words of Torah in a way that resonates with the passionate social justice workers and civil rights advocates that make up NFTY. We all express our Judaism in different ways, and delivering D’var Torah is mine.
The story of Yitro, which I shared at Convention, is one that resonates with the core of our movement and carries a message that must be present in all leaders entering this growing, changing world. As we saw through Moses’ experience, it is important to understand that leaders are never, ever separate from their people. We must remember that the presence of humility is an integral part of leadership and the struggles that come along with it.
One interaction that really stuck with me at Convention was speaking with URJ President, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. Throughout my time in NFTY, I’ve heard of his incredible leadership and strength as the head of our Reform Movement. He approached me while we were in Chicago, and as we talked, all I could think about was how bright the future is. With leaders at the URJ navigating the windy roads of our current day, and NFTYites looking up to them and making their way through the learning experience, there has never been a time where the Jewish world has been more ready to take on the challenges that will be presented.
As we encounter these challenges, I look to the light of the URJ and NFTY and know in my heart that we will come out on top, and we will do so in a way that brings everyone together, not apart. I am ready to go forward in solidarity with my community, and all that follow, to repair the world.
Joe Lichtenstein the winner of the 2017 Wendy Blickstein Memorial D’var Torah Competition, which recognizes achievements in d’var Torah writing on a specific theme. This year’s theme was leadership and authenticity as they relate to Parashat Yitro. Joe is a member of Temple Emanuel in Roanoke, VA, where he is the programming vice president of the temple youth group, SCOTTY. A member of NFTY-MAR and an alumnus of Kutz16 at URJ Kutz Camp, Joe is passionate about politics, basketball, and, of course, Judaism. He also enjoys hanging out with friends and family.