How a Community Grows Great
By: Ariel Eisen, NFTY-SW President 2022-2023
One day, he was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree. Honi said to him: This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit? The man said to him: It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed. Honi said to him: Is it obvious to you that you will live seventy years, that you expect to benefit from this tree? The man said to him: Man himself found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants. (Taanit 23a, Verse 15)
Hi, my name is Ariel Eisen, I’m the 2022-2023 NFTY Southwest President and want to share with you my NFTY journey and how as a community we grow great together.
When I went to my first NFTY event in the Fall of 2019, I wasn’t aware of the impact it would have on the next 4 years of my life. I was oblivious to the fact that it would become a part of my spirit and core support as I navigated the uncertainty of high school. NFTY was like Dramamine for the nausea of life, it helped me overcome the throws of social anxiety and grow as a person. NFTY is the constant community that teaches me new things and provides a space to feel safe in my Jewish identity. It made me more grateful for the present and the experiences I’ve shared with others.
Even though my time in NFTY was nontraditional because of the Pandemic, I fell in love with a community that celebrated me at my highs and encouraged growth from my mistakes. I was shown the value of learning from others and how we can impact the lives of hundreds of teens. NFTY allowed me to build a network of my peers across North America that uplifts each other and works towards a beautiful goal. That goal is to believe in, maintain and share our community so others can experience it. Finding support from adult mentors and URJ staff allowed me to achieve this goal while letting me feel creative and seen. Knowing that I could go to any of them and ask for help or their advice without worrying about how I would be perceived felt freeing. Every part of the process, from being a participant to a part of leadership, made me feel accepted. This feeling of acceptance is what makes NFTY so special; as a collective we learn and grow without judgment.
The Jewish text above describes a perfect world, a place where people work for the future without thinking selfishly. This concept reflects how NFTY runs as a movement and my personal work over the past year to contribute to my region. When I started last August, people were in shock that I would take on a workload traditionally designed for a 6-person board. I did this in the hope of reviving my beloved Southwest community even though I would never reap the benefits of it. I looked many people in the face and said. “It doesn’t matter that I won’t directly benefit from all this work, it matters that it will prolong the thing I care for. My desire is that future generations of Jewish youth find a space they feel comfortable and powerful in. I found that the reaction I elicited from this statement was honor and praise, which I felt wasn’t necessary because I didn’t think what I was doing was all that impossible. I knew what I had signed up for, planting my own carob tree and not worrying about when it would bear fruit, only that it would grow.
This sort of L’dor Va Dor concept is also the basis for how we operate and work as a movement. Each year we see new batches of teens ready to put in the work to continue and better NFTY. Yes, some may enjoy the results of their work in the time they are still actively in NFTY, but 4 years go by quickly, and the majority of the impact you make as a leader is really for future groups of teens. I find this cycle of community growth fascinating; we work hard to make such an amazing community for the present, but in reality, we are making a stronger one for the future.
As my journey of leadership comes to an end, I’m proud to say that my region has grown. Three months ago I was uncertain of NFTY Southwest’s future, I worried who would be the keepers of the tree I planted. Now I’m proud to say that we have three incredible leaders who will take on this work and plant trees of their own. As a soon-to-be alum of NFTY, I’m excited to learn what comes next for myself, and I can’t wait to watch as my friends lead NFTY into a new age full of carob trees that will blossom in their own time.
With love and gratitude