NFTY: When You Lead, the Entire Reform Movement Follows

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Miriam Chilton, URJ Vice President for Youth, addresses our movement at NFTY Convention 2019 in Dallas, Texas:

NFTY, I wish you could see how you look from here. How powerful.  How beautiful.  How connected and united.

I wish you could see how you look not just from here on the stage, but from my perspective.  During Shabbat, April Springer powerfully shared the story of Honi, and the carob tree he planted.  She wisely observed that you, NFTY, are “strong” and “powerful,” like trees in a forest.  But as we all know, it’s hard – impossible maybe – for trees to see, to understand, their own place.

Serving as the URJ’s Vice President for Youth is a true honor.  It allows me to see the forest.  And NFTY I can tell you – this forest is vibrant, diverse and strong, growing and inspiring.

How inspiring?  How strong?   NFTY, we are 20,000 strong across 19 regions, 17 camps, Israel, RAC, and Mitzvah Corps programs — and thousands more across our congregational programs. We build strong, welcoming, inspired communities through teen-powered engagement… We are big, we do important work and we do it together.

That is what I want to share with you tonight.  What it means to be part of a vibrant Movement.  And how we – every NFTY region, every TYG, every one of you – are, together, making a mark on this world.  

What does it mean to make a mark?  As you have heard from Glory and Sarah, sometimes it means changing a mind.  And sometimes it means changing lives.

I want to tell you a story that came to me from a mom…

Lexie, a foster child, joined their family at the start of 8th grade. As she began to settle in, Lexie was immediately welcomed in by you, NFTY. She came to meetings, helped plan events, learned about her Judaism. Five years later, Lexie was graduating from high school and leaving her mark on us as president of NFTY-NEL. To celebrate the love and friendship that was built over those 5 years, a few of you worked with Lexie’s parents, and with the help of clergy and regional advisors, created a powerful ceremony where Lexie received a Hebrew name — Lior Yosepha.

With ritual and tradition, through care and community, NFTY left an indelible mark on Lexie, and on her family (some of you may know her sister – Nobie).

NFTY, you summon the best of one another. And seeing your energy and excitement inspires me. You make me believe that change, that progress, is possible.

Like April & Honi; like the members of your North American Board; like every one of you in this room – you’ve shown us what happens when teens show up. And now, you’re here. You are part of a global movement, one that you shape every day with your vision, values and voices.

And, when you lead, the entire Reform Movement follows.  With gun violence prevention, with gender pronouns, with preventing sexual violence – you have 900 congregations and 1.5 million people that listen to you and learn from you.

On Shabbat morning, we talked about Parkland.  We mourned and comforted one another. Tonight, we turn to action.

 On Shabbat, we talked about the strength we can provide to each other. Tonight, we talk about the strength that we can, together, bring to the world.

Tonight, we welcome two people who have shown us what it means to engage with the often-dark world around us:

They have taught us how leadership can choose you even when you are not looking for it. And, every day, they show up for their values.

Thanks to each of you for showing up.  Let’s commit to continuing to make our mark on the world.

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