On October 7-9, nearly 80 teens from across the country joined together for the URJ Teen Collaborative (The Collab) at OSRUI in Wisconsin for the first in person North American youth get-together since the pandemic began. Since Veida 2020, we have both lost and gained a lot, and have opportunities now that we didn’t have during those times. Together with regional leaders, congregational leaders, and leaders who don’t hold titles, we collaborated to begin forming our new Reform Jewish Youth Movement. As the director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism Rabbi Jonah Pesner so eloquently put it, we are seeking to rebuild our movement strong through our own personal and collective power. Rabbi Pesner shared his belief in the young people in the room to make change happen, elevating the passion within our strong group of teens to bring about change. We were also honored to seek the wise words of the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, as he shared his confidence in the teens present at The Collab, only elevating us as teens even further.
This year brings a fresh slate. Not once in the past 83 years have we been able to step back and restart. This is why it is so important to bring about change in this opportunity like no other, and not rely on others to make it happen for us, rather to rely on others as resources for us to bring about change. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we have been blessed with a full time NFTY team of adult *mentors* that has the capacity to fully assist with youth programming and give their undivided attention to our work for our movement. This team is not to be taken for granted and has many resources to help us as teen leaders make the change that we need for our movement.
To continue our strive for collective power, we learned the ways in which we can build our collective power stronger than ever before. This all begins with storytelling, translating into 1:1 conversations and house meeting discussions. Each teen at The Collab participated in a storytelling training, a 1:1 training and practice session, AND a house meeting discussion, all proving immensely productive. By the end of our weekend together, teens were comfortably participating in 1:1 conversations with other participants, and we have already begun to see the positive impact they are having.
Community, engagement, growth. These are three of the the many ideas and feelings witnessed throughout the URJ The Collab event. As mentioned during the event, we are rebuilding and rebranding this movement to make it our own. There were so many moments that are indescribable. Even after so much time apart, the URJ and NFTY as a whole were still able to come together and begin to recreate an even stronger community. With 1:1s, formal and informal, folks were able to get to know each other to a greater extent. We can easily witness engagement as something that happened. Through doing the NFTY cheer on Sunday to Israeli dancing on Saturday, people were in some way or another able to connect with one another and be engaged in the activity. There was so much clear growth, not just with teens but adults as well. We learned from one another, laughed with each other, and had an abundance of fun during the event.
This weekend showed all of us as teens that we have the power to bring about change and we have the resources to make it happen. It was truly inspiring to hear some of the ideas people had and to be a part of such a dedication flowing out of each and every person who made the trek to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. While we still have a long way to go in bringing about OUR ideal Reform Jewish Youth Movement, we have never been more optimistic in the power of us as teens to bring it about for ourselves.
We saw this weekend the beauty of teen leadership and reform teen leaders gather together to learn about their resources to bring about their own change to better our collective movement. If we pass up the opportunity that we have right now to start anew and fail to fully explore, as Rabbi Jonah Pesner so eloquently put, our collective power, and become the shark, this beautiful community will no longer be able to thrive. Become the shark. Keep doing your amazing work. Don’t stop until it’s done. We can do this, we will do this, together.
The 2022-2023 NFTY North American Board