By Zachary Herrmann, NFTY President
For most NFTYites, it is difficult to envision that across the country, there are different NFTY regions with their own traditions, personalities, and communities. You may have heard bits and pieces about regional differences, but they’re hard to understand until you experience them. This past weekend I flew to Hartford, CT, to join the teens of NFTY Northeast at URJ Eisner Camp for a weekend like no other at their fall Conclavette. You may have heard of NFTY-NE’s election procedure or unique regional events, but that is only the beginning of what makes them one of a kind.
What makes NFTY-NE so special, is the value they place on being a community of equals. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by dozens of teens who only knew that I was a new face and needed a few friends. The region has an amazing amount of diversity as it pulls teens from different states, camps, and dozens of youth groups, so everyone is used to seeing new members, and shares in the responsibility of making them feel welcome. The best part is that this audacious hospitality did not conclude with the first day introductions, but continued throughout the entire weekend. In fact, I was making new friends until just a few hours before my departure.
Even though NFTY-NE has a reputation for doing things a little differently, it’s not like going to a foreign country. NFTY-NE is still part of NFTY. They still do the cheer, they still run services and programming, and they dance the cupid shuffle like everyone else. Many things felt familiar. From their opening mixers to their Havdallah spiral, it felt like a home away from home, but with its own unique twist. The teens stay up late, and the board stays up later, but all still manage to rally in time for bagels on Saturday morning.
The part of this event that was the most amazing for me, was the role of the board during day to day programming. In many regions, the board has the role of greeters, time managers, announcers, and program leaders; they are in many ways the face of their region. However, at the NE Conclavette, the board steps back and lets young/new leaders run the show. These teens applied for leadership roles, and then were given the opportunity to lead different parts of the event such as services, audacious hospitality, and programming. The regional board members were available as a support system, and actively worked to lead from behind-the-scenes while staying out of the spotlight.
This region takes pride in not putting anyone on a pedestal; they are all equals and give respect to whoever is leading at the moment. I realized just how impressive this was once I had participated in an active scavenger hunt program without any group leaders. The groups gathered and were told to work together with no more instruction than that. Since they have had experiences like this in the past, they didn’t need someone to be assigned as their point-person. Instead, they were able to work together and self-moderate. Everyone’s voices were heard, and everyone left the program happy. It was inconsequential who had actually won the scavenger hunt.
Needless to say, my time with NFTY-NE was outstanding, and I am so glad I had a chance to interact with the 150 teens who attended the Conclavette. This event brought me back to my first days with NFTY and reminded me why we do the work that we do. I cannot thank NFTY-NE enough for their audacious hospitality, and it brings me great joy knowing that soon they will get to share their culture with many more teens at the Biennial. NFTY-NE is unique and exceptional and I will remember the friends I made in those 3 short days for a lifetime.