By Jacob Blackstone, NFTY Southwest
It’s safe to say that the world can be a scary and mysterious place. Finding the strength to navigate it can be even scarier. For millennia, we as a people have had to live in a world that has thrown seemingly endless hate and prejudice our way, but to this day we continue to prosper and prevail. Why? One word: courage. When we as a people are thrown to the ground, we get back up and continue walking. To quote the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:
“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to not be afraid.”
I’ve always been fond of this quote, and I was very pleased to hear it during Shabbat services (especially in song form) only a few weeks ago at NFTY-SW Fall Kallah, where Jewish teens from all over the Southwest gathered at Camp Daisy & Harry Stein in Prescott, AZ for a weekend of community bonding and Jewish learning. Over these two exciting days, we explored our theme through a variety of discussions and activities on how the idea of being courageous can play into our daily lives and help in shaping our Jewish identity. We looked at that week’s Torah portion, Noach, and discussed how the themes of courage in Noah’s own story can reflect on our own lives. Additionally, we talked about the issues that we feel passionate about – immigration policy, racial and gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and so on – and ways in which we can advocate and speak up for what we believe in and .
Beyond discussion activities, courage was widespread within the NFTY community itself that weekend. On Saturday night we were treated to a talent show from several members of our community. From dance and musical numbers to the nation’s hottest new Jewish hip-hop group, NFTY-ites bravely put themselves out there for our entertainment. I will admit that I hardly, in any capacity, have the guts to get out on stage and belt out a melody or rock out on a keyboard, nor do I have the courage to be able to so easily sit up on stage and relentlessly roast my friends on the Regional Board. Nevertheless, kudos/kol hakavod to those who put on such a great show for us!
On a more serious note, the biggest form of courage within our community is not only one that I saw that weekend, but is one that I see every and any time we gather not just as a youth group, but as a people. Even in the face of so much prejudice levied at the Jewish community to this day, we continue to be proud of our heritage and keep our kehilah kedoshah, our holy community, strong. Every time we celebrate Shabbat, gather for services, read Torah, light the Havdalah candle, sing together in a rowdy song session, link arms in a friendship circle, say the Birkat Hamazon, promise to see our friends at the next event, and proudly flaunt the colored beads on our neck, we are screaming to the world that we’re not afraid to be us. We’re not afraid to be Jews. We will not be silenced by those who seek to do so. To shamelessly be one’s self is, in my eyes, courage in its purest form, and we will courageously and shamelessly continue to be Jewish, no matter what the world may throw at us.