By Hannah Finkelstein
NFTY Convention 2021 was a new adventure. Not only was this my first NFTY Convention, but it was also the first ever virtual NFTY Convention. I was lucky enough to experience it on my own and also through the eyes of my peers as I managed the NFTY social media accounts leading up to, throughout, and even after the weekend! The chance to look back at incredible memories we made as a community has kept me smiling ever since Convention ended. So much happened in the three days we spent as a kehilah kedosha (holy community) – I loved every moment, but here are my top 10 favorite moments from the weekend:
1. Opening in Gatherly
As we opened the weekend together, we met on a new platform called Gatherly where we could gather in clusters – the ability to move around and see different people in different “rooms” on different “floors” made it feel more like an in-person event. We had greeters welcoming in participants who knew the platform and helped make our space not only welcoming but comforting.
2. Progressive and Interactive Services
Shabbat Services offered participants an array of options. Not only did we have Minecraft (led by URJ 6 Points Sci-tech Academy), Just Dance, Meditation, Social Action themed services but we also offered camp-style services. This was a great way to encourage participants to pursue their Judaism through a lens that was meaningful to them. Some participants chose something they have explored before and some tried something new.
3. Brunching with Friends
Having designated time to have a meal made NFTY Convention 2021 engaging, sincere, and authentic. It was also a great way to start the day together and explore some new conversation topics.
4. Day of Learning Workshops
As participants filtered into our virtual space they began by discussing topics that were important to them. The Day of Learning workshops offered an array of topics for participants to choose from, so that there was something for everyone, no matter what they are interested in. Participants spent the day learning with their peers from across North America in the comfort of their own space. Our kehilah kedosha, sacred community, is the perfect place to be engaged, ask questions, and seek knowledge, and participants did just that.
Havdalah is always my favorite part of a weekend away with NFTY. It brings everyone together, puts time into perspective, and is a beautiful gathering filled with love. As we embarked on this experience we were able to feel connected even while we were apart by cracking open glow sticks that represented a candle’s bright light. Seeing the glow sticks across the screen was eye opening. It reminded me that everyone in NFTY brings their own light and unique qualities to create the space that I cherish with my whole heart.
6. Dan Nichols Concert
Dan Nichols greeted our community with energy, positivity, and music! It was incredible to see the positivity that was radiating through the chat. The NFTY community proved that positivity towards others encourages and creates a positive atmosphere. I felt the love building throughout the night as teens danced together, shared laughs, and made new friends in the chat.
7. Taking Action and Making Change
From the moment we joined as a community on Sunday I could feel the excitement to take action. It was incredible to feel the commotion rise as we stepped into workshops where participants learned how to help on a local level as well as on a larger scale.
8. Making Friends that Become Family
“Friends that turn to family” is not just a saying when it comes to Convention. Every participant was placed into a family group where they got to know one another in a structured setting. The only downside was that we only got to meet together twice throughout the weekend! Everyone was welcoming, open to meeting one another, and ready to build upon friendships!
9. Watching My Peers Lead
Stepping back and watching my peers lead was heartwarming. My friends who a year ago wouldn’t have identified as a leader or felt comfortable standing at the front of a room were leading their peers in virtual programs on a new platform, and speaking with passion.
10. Reconnecting with Friends from Around the World
Having a virtual space allowed for participants around the world to join us. We had speakers come from Israel to work with and guide these ambitious and brave teens. So many teens were able to connect through this virtual space. First time NFTYites joined and rekindled friendships from years past, URJ campers continued their NFTY journey, and participants tried to meet as many people as they possibly could in the short 3 days of NFTY convention.
As many participants have said (and I agree!), NFTY Convention 2021 exceeded expectations, helped build upon our kehilah kedosha, and most of all it was a blast!