NFTY North American Leadership: A Transition

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This winter, we embarked on an examination of NFTY’s leadership selection and training process that led us to a bold and intentional new structure for selecting the North American leaders of the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, which we are excited to share with you!

First we needed to take stock of NFTY after three years of a global pandemic and a longer struggle to grow youth groups and regions and identify and train stellar leaders to lead them. We also want to develop a culture in NFTY in line with Reform Jewish values, in which we examine tradition, ask questions, understand what resonates with Jewish teens today, and continue to grow and evolve year after year, instead of waiting for our youth movement to feel stale or broken.

We started by asking teen leaders, regional and North American staff three guiding questions:

    • What do we want to accomplish as a movement and what reaction are we looking for? 
    • Who are the leaders – what are the roles/responsibilities that are required to accomplish that reaction? 
    • How do we do the process of finding, training, electing, appointing, and raising up leaders?

For a long time, the answer to those questions was doing what we had always done – a traditional youth group-style election, where each region received the same number of votes for candidates who had “risen up” through the one-track ranks of NFTY, and were elected to a hierarchical structure where power was held in gavel order.  

We started our process by collecting answers to these questions on a Jamboard and in 1:1 conversations with NFTYites, congregational staff, and NFTY staff, and then examining what suggestions, questions, and issues kept coming up. The biggest takeaways from those conversations were:

    • The tension between centering positions vs. centering the work – what structure for a team would allow us to accomplish the most, and to go further, faster?
    • Centering diversity across the movement – how to ensure we have diverse experiences and identities represented in our leadership without tokenizing people
    • Giving every NFTYite a chance to asses and have a voice in the leadership of NFTY without creating a structure that results in a popularity contest each year, and honors experience and enthusiasm for the work over how many people candidates know
    • We need someone in a presidential role who can lead a team of leaders as well as represent NFTY to the larger URJ and its affiliates

We brainstormed and researched every type of leadership structure and elections/leadership transition process we could find, a spectrum of options from formal elections to appointments to anarchy (Spoiler: we did not choose anarchy). We weighed them centering our goals: a representative team in terms of experience and identities, a desire to grow into a strong, vibrant, youth-led movement, and a safe, inclusive, welcoming space where teens can explore and shape the Reform Movement as a whole, from what feels spiritual to what is fun to what justice means. We talked a lot about what we expect from our North American leaders in terms of their time, work ethic, and commitment, and what it means to be a productive leader in this movement, especially in a moment of transition and change.

What we came up with that best fits our needs in this moment for North American Leadership is:

    • The creation of a Nominating Committee (NomCom) made up of teen leaders and support staff who are thoughtful, intentional, and critical about what it means to be a leader, understand leadership to be more than just being in front of the room, can focus on building connections and relationships with teens across the movement, and reflect the diversity of the Reform Movement. 
    • The NomCom will receive nominations, which teens can submit for themselves or receive a nomination from teens or adult mentors. Candidates who accept their nomination and apply will take part in a live, virtual Meet the Nominees forum where any teen from the movement can meet them, ask questions, and share their feedback with the NomCom.
    • The NomCom will take applications and feedback into consideration and propose a roster for the North American Leadership Team. Teens across the Reform Jewish Youth Movement will have the opportunity to vote to approve the proposed Leadership Team.
    • The new Leadership Team will spend time discussing the movement priorities and deciding who will take the lead on which items, creating personalized portfolios with the flexibility to change or take on new projects as needs arise over their year on the team.

We shared our first iteration of these ideas with teen leaders from across North America, the NFTY North American Board, and NFTY staff. We collected feedback in an anonymous form and held an open virtual meeting for anyone who wanted to ask questions and share their thoughts live. We made changes to reflect their questions and needs.

What you see here is an overview of a detailed, thoughtful plan developed over months. You can explore more about the Nominating Committee and Leadership Team in the NFTY North American Leadership Team & Nominating Committee Information sheet, and the new North American Leadership Team structure and how to nominate someone and apply in the NFTY North American Leadership Team Information Packet.

Thank you for your feedback and support throughout this process as we test a new way to select and define leadership in NFTY. Change is inevitable and hard – and we want to be making intentional, proactive change instead of waiting for it to catch us unprepared again. We ask that you assume good will and know that all of us have the same goal in mind when embarking on this change: a strong, vibrant, youth-led Reform Jewish movement designed for and by teens. Please direct your curious, caring, respectful questions to Julie Marsh.


The NFTY Leadership Transitions Team

Daniella Abbott, NFTY North American Board
Noa Apple, NFTY North American Board
Simon Warner, NFTY North American Board
Julie Marsh, Youth Organizing Team
Lauren Stock, Youth Organizing Team
Logan Ziman Gerber, Youth Organizing Team
Matt Ghan, NFTY SoCal Mentor

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