At this weekend’s NFTY Convention in Dallas, TX, Reform Jewish teens from across the continent are coming together to make their voices heard and to act for positive global change – drives by our core Jewish values.
So what makes us NFTY? Excerpted from part of Friday night’s plenary session, here’s what defines NFTY – in our teens’ own words and voices.
Adele Colson, NFTY-MI: NFTY is and always has been a big supporter of teens getting out there and finding a way to take action about things in our world that affect us – things that make a difference to us as Jewish people and to North America as a whole.
Tikkun olam is something we’re really passionate about. For us, Judaism is about making the world a better place and social justice is an essential part of Jewish life and tradition.
This year, many of our NFTY regions hosted Social Action Kallot, where we got together and found ways to get involved. Through NFTY, we’ve been able to connect with other Jewish teens advocating for the issues we care about most. It makes me feel like I’m part of a fleet of young people who want to enact change and that no matter how hectic the world may seem sometimes, I know there are other Jewish teens out there who will stand up for what’s right.
For example, we have programs like Mitzvah Corps, and last year, NFTY helped me reach out to other students and adults around the country all working toward the goal of preventing gun violence.
Even though some of us are too young to vote, we found a way to mobilize and practice tikkun olam through nationwide movements like the civic engagement campaign and the URJ’s March for Our Lives events – events that we organized.
When I joined the NFTY National Gun Violence Prevention Board, I became part of a team that has given me the opportunity to learn and experience, to collaborate and listen, to ask questions, to challenge, to partner and to create a vision – a vision for the world in which we want to live.
NFTY has taken on strong positions and helped teens take the lead on so many important social issues, including sexual violence prevention, racial justice, disabilities inclusion, refugee resettlement, and gender equality. Like the name of our organization, that’s pretty nifty. Truly, it’s extraordinary what we can accomplish.
Some people might think nobody’s listening or that we’re too young to make a difference, but in my experience, I’ve found we’re pretty loud, and if we all come together our voices are monumental. We can heal the world.
Joshua Gonzalez, NFTY-SoCal: As NFTY, we make sure there is a place for everyone and that everyone has a place. It’s about the connections and relationships – making sure that anyone who steps in the door feels at home.
Whether it’s a hello as you arrive, or arms around each other during Havdalah, singing our hearts out at every chance we get, and, of course, mosh pits. NFTY is a place for everyone.
We strive to be more and more inclusive, educating each other on our differences, and finding connections that bring us closer together.
And it’s about being a part of a community where you know you are going to have fun.
Our calendars revolve around the dates of the next big NFTY event or Zoom call or day of action or NFTY Convention.
Sometimes I’ll just sit in my bed, looking at my clock and thinking, “Man, three weeks, four days, seven hours, 15 minutes, and 38 seconds until my next NFTY event…”
NFTY would not be the same without each other. It’s the people, the family, the community that inspire me to be my best self – and that inspires all of us to be our best selves.
Ethan Soloveychik, NFTY-CAR: As NFTY, we work hard to be sure that everyone’s voices are heard – the voices of the majority, and the voices of the most vulnerable among us and in our larger communities.
We reach across lines of difference to build up relationships and form new connections.
We know how important it is – not just for our “now” but for our future – to build friendships,
relationships, and start conversations that will give us the chance to really be in partnership with others, and making sure everyone can feel a sense of belonging no matter where we go.
We make sure that every voice that wants to be heard within our spaces can be heard – loudly and with pride. We are proud to be welcoming through our policies, actions, and steps toward further inclusion.
And we know that while we do work to build these relationships with our allies, there is more we can do – and we will. We can step into even deeper into racial justice conversations, multi-faith conversations with our Christian and Muslim friends, and intergenerational conversations. Because all of these conversations will only help inspire our entire generation – as NFTYites and everyone around us.
Caroline Sloter, NFTY-TOR: As NFTY, we take the chance not just to live our Jewish lives, but to challenge our Judaism to be sure it matches up with the lives we lead.
We experiment and practice, we lead and learn to follow others, we teach and are taught about the most transformational ideas of Reform Jewish life. Jewish life is core to who we are as NFTY because it humbles us, it inspires us, and it provides a spiritual outlet for our ideas and questions.
Judaism is what connects us. It is the one thing we all share. It’s the reason why our bond is so strong, and it is what makes NFTY events so much more meaningful and powerful.
As we continue to grow as Jews, I feel fortunate to know that our friends, leaders, parents, and teachers provide space for us to practice and challenge our Judaism, because we can only grow by continuing to ask questions and learn together.