By Adam Friedman, NFTY Social Action Vice President
I have always held the belief that NFTY is more than a few weekends a year spent with close friends. While that has been a crucial part of many people’s experience (including mine), what I experienced in NFTY-TOR this past weekend put an image to the notion of something deeper that underlies our movement.
One of the first programs I experienced at TOR’s Na’aseh V’Nishma event addressed how to talk to people who have differing views in a respectful way with the goal of creating mutual understanding. Participants from varying backgrounds engaged with the program because it spoke to them on a personal level- a theme that carried throughout this social justice-filled weekend.
We drove to Austin the next day, where we heard from the Anti-Defamation League, Reform Texas’ Rabbi David Segal, and Officer Black, a District Representative for the Austin Police Department who spoke about his experience being an officer of color. The programs, themselves, were all fascinating and applicable. However, what stood out most about the experience was how the teachings from and passion inspired by that first program on Friday evening was so evident throughout the day on Saturday.
At one point during Officer Black’s presentation, he asked the TORites in front of him what their experience with the police was. Many of the participants shared stories of how they were stopped for speeding, or talked about how the police keep them safe. One girl shared a different story. She talked about how her father was pulled over for going just a couple miles per hour over the speed limit. She shared how he felt profiled as a man of color driving an Uber. The police officer listened to her story attentively. When she had finished, he asked her a simple question; “What do you think the officer’s side of the story was?”
Instead of becoming upset or shutting down, the girl paused for a moment and considered the cop’s question with the seriousness that she employed during the program the night before. Then, she drew on the respectful disagreement training from that very same program and acknowledged that the officer most likely felt that he was in the right and it is possible that her father was going faster than he thought he was. The police officer nodded and reciprocated her effort to understand by recognizing that there are certainly officers who do bad things. He added that he hoped her bad experience with a single officer- or anyone’s experience with one person in the wrong- would not affect their support of the police as whole.
He then reflected on what his department has done in recent years to hold officers accountable. Every car and officer has been outfitted with cameras that automatically begin to film when the car door opens during a stop. Community liaisons, like him, were springing up in departments across the state. He ended his response with a message of hope.
This interaction I saw this past Saturday highlighted what NFTY is. NFTY is a place where we learn and grow with our community, then go out and apply our newfound knowledge. NFTY is where we feel comfortable taking risks and being honest. Thank you, NFTY-TOR, for reminding me what NFTY is all about.