By Maya Levy, NFTY President
CHICAGO, Chicago! It truly is a city that’s exciting and a city that’s inviting. I spent nearly half of December in the Windy City and enjoyed every moment.
I was so eager for Biennial to begin that I arrived in Chicago, with Jake Forstein (NFTY Membership Vice President), a full week before the event actually began. We had an incredible week prior to Biennial, a highlight of which was the NFTY CAR (Chicago Area Region) 678 Hanukkah Party. This event made my heart swell with pride for NFTY CAR and our entire movement. There were over 140 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at this event full of bowling, arcade games, Dreidel, and more. 140!!! That’s mind blowing! These NFTY CAR 678 participants were so happy to be at the event, so enraptured with NFTY already, and could hardly contain their enthusiasm to attend NFTY High School events. The success NFTY has seen in its 678 programming this year is thrilling. It is so phenomenal that we are creating opportunities for more and more people to experience the magic of NFTY and explore their Reform Judaism. We are continuing to reduce the age barrier and encouraging engagement in the movement across a wider demographic, and we are doing it so well. The future of NFTY is secure, and I cannot wait to watch it expand and strengthen as the years fly by.
Before I knew it, the URJ Biennial was upon us. It’s hard for me to describe what happened at this remarkable event, but I can confidently say that it was the most life-changing experience of my Reform Jewish life. Over 5,000 Reform Jews passed through McCormick Place over these five days in December to learn, pray, converse, and inspire change and growth. It was so impressive that in every space I entered, I was surrounded by people of all ages who loved being a part of the Reform Movement. I was able to engage in conversations on all things Judaism: social justice, religious school, Torah, prayer, and (of course) youth. Every conversation I had left me feeling inspired and ready to tackle a new challenge or embrace a new partnership. In every conversation, session, and plenary, one theme was clear: alignment. The URJ is entering a new stage of aligning the work and goals of its branches, meaning exciting new partnerships, collaboration on projects, and new pipelines between programs in all branches of the movement. NFTY is seeing this already as it aligns more with the URJ Camps and other URJ youth programs, an effort that is strengthening our experience as teens, as well as the greater Reform Movement.
An example of this alignment is also exhibited in the transformation of NFTY Convention for 2021 – a transformation that was officially revealed at Biennial. As Susan Sontag wrote in her essay Notes on “Camp”, “The spirit of camp is extravagance.” NFTY Convention plans to perfectly reflect extravagance when it takes place at Greene Family Camp in 2021. I am beyond ecstatic for this transformation and all the opportunities it brings for the event. If you have any questions, take a look at this blog and feel free to reach out to me at any time!
The Biennial was full of incredible moments, but a personal highlight was reading from the Czech Torah during Saturday morning services. I won’t go into the full story, but if you have time, you must read more about this Torah. The scroll we read from at the Biennial was sent to Kutz 45 years ago, and after being put to such great use, it is finally returning to a new congregation in the Czech Republic. I was so honored to read from a scroll with such a rich history, and to then pass it on to a community that will put it to great, holy use.
Biennial finished as soon as it began. The North American board and our advisors spent an extra day at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) to prepare for Veida (a North American event this President’s Day weekend in Wisconsin, open to ALL leaders in NFTY). And just like that, I boarded a plane at O’Hare International Airport, and my six weeks of magnificent travel came to an end.
The past six weeks were some of the most fulfilling of my life. I traveled to five states and spent time in two countries. I attended conferences, met new people, saw old friends, created relationships, and conversed about topics I never dreamed of. I am coming home after a month and a half full of inspiration. I am ready to refocus on my original goals, create new initiatives, continue conversations, and plan an exhilarating Veida.
I can’t wait for what these next months will bring!