By Maya Levy, NFTY President
November began quite similarly to how October ended – with a Pro-Israel Organization Conference. Nearly 5 days after J-Street National Conference closed, I checked into the AIPAC Schusterman High School Summit, along with three other NFTYites and Hannah Bender (NFTY Programming Vice President). This event offered a much different experience than J-Street, but equally important and educational. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a Pro-Israel organization that lobbies and advocates for a strong American-Israel relationship. Each night, the group of NFTYites at the conference met to debrief the day, think about what we learned, and consider what it could all mean in our NFTY spaces. The conference offered opportunities to engage in conversations about how to program around Israel and truly teach about the issues, rather than avoid conversations or only express one-sided opinions. These conversations were illuminating and inspiring, and I am excited to continue them with the Israel Engagement Task Force as this team works to identify valuable partnerships between NFTY and Israel organizations.
After a full week in DC, two successful Pro-Israel conferences, lots of time at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and a few days in New York City, Jake Forstein (NFTY Membership Vice President) and I made our way to Great Barrington, Massachusetts for the URJ Youth Northeast Homecoming at URJ Eisner Camp. This event was a huge effort with many URJ Youth Programs working in partnership; the Teen Songleading Fellowship, the Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellowship, Join for Justice, NFTY NAR (New York Area), and NFTY Northeast. It is the second event of its kind this year, a new type of weekend experience that stimulates the relationship between NFTY, camps, and other URJ Youth programs in an effort to engage Reform Jewish teens with the greater work of the Reform movement. It was really meaningful to be there to observe the event, thinking about how to translate its successes to future partnership events. There were a handful of people attending the event who had never heard of NFTY, or never wanted to engage with our programs, and it was inspiring to see them participate enthusiastically in NFTY-style programming. It was a reminder that no matter the context, the space, or the event style, when young Reform Jews come together, they create a positive, uplifting environment buzzing with love and excitement.
I returned to New York City from Homecoming feeling tired, but still elevated by the NFTY energy I had been surrounded in over the weekend. I spent a few more days in New York before embarking on a trip of a lifetime. Thanks to the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), I was able to attend a conference in Marseilles, France for young leaders of Progressive Jewish communities around the world. I jumped at the opportunity, excited to take my passion for Jewish leadership overseas and learn more about global Progressive communities. After an eight-hour flight to Paris, a three-hour train to Marseilles (through the beautiful hills and green countryside of France), and a rainy drive to the hotel, I arrived at the conference jetlagged and enthusiastic to begin.
The four days I spent in Marseilles were eye-opening. I spent the days with nearly 70 young Jewish leaders engaged in programming about leadership, innovation, Zionism, and more – but it was the time outside of programming that ended up meaning the most to me. During meals, walks between programs, and free time on the beach, I met Brazilians, South Africans, Brits, Australians, Israelis, Germans, and one man from Luxembourg, all of whom were leaders of their young Progressive communities. These communities are so different from the URJ, NFTY, and the American Reform space in ways I never imagined. In these countries, Reform Judaism isn’t the majority like it is in America, so they have to work to engage their community in different ways. As many differences as there were between us, however, there were similarities. Our beliefs as Reform/Progressive Jews were similar. The Kabbalat Shabbat service that I experienced that Friday night could have been held at a NFTY event in Florida, or a Netzer event in South Africa, and it would have made no difference. Like the URJ Northeast Homecoming, the same energy was all around, even though the setting and the people were different. I felt more connected than ever to my Judaism, even though I was thousands of miles away from home surrounded by people I had just met the day before.
When I left the conference, I felt inspired and enlightened. I was thinking about my Judaism in a new way, I was thinking about NFTY’s structure in a new way. I still have so much to learn from those around me, and I am excited to find myself in another global Jewish space in less than two months for Netzer Veida.
My time in France ended and suddenly it was back to the real world, back to my NFTY world and the URJ Biennial (more about that next month! As I reflect on my travels, I realize that in every space I entered, I left with new ideas and knowledge. It has emphasized a belief that has always guided my leadership: learning from others is the best way to ensure forward growth. I have learned so much from others this month, and my entire term so far, and want to continue to seek conversation in every space I enter so I can continue to learn, grow personally, and expand this movement forward.