By: Sam Fetgatter, NFTY Southern Tropical Region Programming Vice President 2019-2020/5779-5780
In many of NFTY’s 19 regions, there is a variation of NFTY that encompasses middle schoolers from across the region, collectively known as NFTY678. Every region has its traditions for this group and its own ways of approaching the next generation of NFTY, but none do it quite like NFTY Southern Tropical Region (STR). Once a year, sixth-through-eighth graders from across the region come together for a magical weekend of celebrating Shabbat, meeting new friends, reuniting with old friends, learning about hot topics in the world of social action, and taking some of their first steps in the journey that is NFTY. In NFTY-STR, the main NFTY678 event is known as Hatikvah Kallah, and is arguably the best event of the year.
In my middle school years, I never attended a Hatikvah Kallah – in fact, you probably would have had to drag me to a NFTY event. Fortunately, I have been able to experience two Hatikvah Kallot in my time in NFTY-STR as a high schooler. The first time I participated in this event was also my first time leading an event in my region. I was a wide-eyed Temple Youth Group (TYG) Programming Vice President who thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, it was just an event for middle schoolers… right?
That’s where my past self and many others go wrong. Hatikvah Kallah isn’t just, “an event for middle schoolers.” The participants at these events are the future of our movement; the next North American Board president is potentially sitting in the crowd of young hopefuls who are eager for their first taste of what NFTY has to offer. I quickly came to realize just how important my role in planning and executing this event truly was.
In the planning of both Hatikvah Kallot, I worked for months to tailor what I felt was the perfect introduction to the world of NFTY-STR. The first time around, in the fall of 2018, I planned the event with my youth group, BiTTY, with the support of the Regional Board. It was the success of that event that inspired me to run for Regional Board the following year with hopes of being able to return to the event that arguably had the biggest impact on me as a leader. I am grateful that I was able to return to Hatikvah Kallah last month as the PVP of NFTY-STR to help facilitate another youth group in my home region with planning the event. I knew I had to try my best to recreate for this youth group the magic I felt leading my first event. Most importantly, I needed the event to be as inspiring for the NFTY678 participants as it was the previous year.
The Hatikvah Kallot I was involved in planning were very similar. We introduced the participants to mixers, social justice, and NFTY’s unique style of programming activities. Participants spent Shabbat with our kehillah kedosha, our holy community, for either the first time in a while or the first time ever. They were taught the STR cheer and sang their hearts out at song sessions. Looking back, I know these two events were successful. I know this not from advisor feedback or the post-event survey but from two key experiences.
On the Sunday of my first Hatikvah, as we were wrapping up the event, middle schoolers came up to me and told me how much they loved the event, announcing with such excitement that they would be back next year. Almost exactly one year later, as I was walking around at the Saturday night carnival the hosting youth group had put together I saw one of the middle schoolers I had met the night before seemingly having the best night with a group of new friends. This was a complete 180 from the kid I saw just 24 hours earlier eating dinner by himself because he did not know anyone. It didn’t matter how the programs went or how fun the Saturday night social was, I knew from those interactions that we had accomplished the goal of a NFTY678 event; we inspired the future of the movement.
Sam Fetgatter is a senior in high school from NFTY’s Southern Tropical Region and currently serves as the Programming Vice President. He attended the URJ Kutz Camp in 2019. Outside of NFTY, he loves hanging out with friends, traveling, being a part of his school’s theatre troupe, and watching his favorite show, Survivor!