NFTY at 75

NFTY at 75

by Logan Kramer

Over the past three years, NFTY has taken me to plenty of random places. I’ve held events with my temple youth group in public parks, enjoyed extensive layovers in airports across the country, gone to socials at amusement parks, and visited more congregations than I can count. As I’ve traveled to all of these places, one thing seems to stay the same. I consistently attract confused looks from strangers and passersby, whether I’m chanting the blessing over a Havdalah candle or dancing with friends to NFTY-TOR’s signature “Every Time We Touch” dance.

Surprisingly enough, the moments that attract weird stares are some of my favorite things about NFTY. It’s not that I like the stares themselves, but I appreciate that NFTYites have the amazing capability of turning any space into a holy one, moving our kehilah kedoshah, our holy community, from sanctuaries to parks to airports no matter what stares we might receive along the way. What each person brings to this community is far more important than where we are located on a map.

I dare any of those who are uneasy about the North American Jewish future to maintain their pessimism after spending, as I have just done, 72 hours with the teen leaders of our Movement at the 2015 NFTY Convention and Youth Summit in Atlanta. I attend a lot of conferences, and I have never walked away from one feeling as inspired and energized as I am today. After spending time with 1,000 teens, upwards of 200 adults and an incredible group of more than 200 volunteers and URJ staff who live and share the values and dreams that we as Reform Jews seek to represent in the world, I am inspired by the power of our community and ready for a spirit-filled future.

I had the honor of sharing the bimah with NFTY's extraordinary president, Debbie Rabinovich from Temple Beth El in Charlotte, NC, as she and I presented a joint D'var Torah on Shabbat morning. Drawing insightfully on this week's Torah portion, Debbie observed that this convention marks a fundamental turning point for NFTY, as it embraces a more mission-driven future. "Never be afraid to go big! The more focused each of us is - the more change we can make." she said powerfully to a sea of NFTY teens. 

by The NFTY North American Board 

As NFTY’s 75th year comes to a close, we find our Movement at a crucial moment in time. While we honor our rich history, we also look toward our vibrant future with much anticipation, joy, and excitement. This year it has been our privilege to serve as the leaders of NFTY, and we want to share and celebrate ten important headlines from NFTY’s 75th year. 

By Rabbi Allan Smith

Rabbi Allan Smith, affectionately known as “Smitty” by NFTYites, is a great figure in the history of NFTY. He created the NFTY Leadership Academy at Kutz Camp in 1972, expanded the number of URJ Camps during his tenure, raised millions of dollars for the purchase of new camps and the improvement of others, and overall expanded the population capacity of URJ camps by 300%. Smitty is known for his total commitment to young people, and his insistence that all people, especially young people, be treated with dignity and respect.

By Greg Kellner

I can’t remember in great detail my time as a NFTYite or back 16 years ago when I was a camper at Eisner, but the moments I do remember are the ones that shaped who I am today and how I approach my life’s work: raising the next generation of Jewish youth.

By Blaire Weinberg

Our tradition tells us in Psalm 149, “Sing unto God a new song.” For 75 years, NFTY teenagers have shaped, written, and led songs that have allowed Reform Jewish teens to connect with Judaism in an entirely new way. NFTY musicians sit at the epicenter of Jewish music, experimenting with new takes on traditional songs and writing music that serves as the musical scores of Reform Jewish life. Through NFTY, more than 100,000 teenagers have connected with Judaism in innovative and meaningful ways, continuously pushing the boundaries of Jewish music. Since 1939, NFTY has consistently redefined the call to action found in Psalm 149.

By Amy Bebchick

I was never a member of the NFTY North American Board or Regional Board. I attended some NEFTY (now NFTY-NE) regional events, but I can’t remember which ones or where. I didn’t meet my husband at a NFTY event, and my closest friends are not from my NFTY years. But my local Temple Youth Group, NFTY weekends, NFTY in Israel trip, and URJ Kutz Camp were transformational experiences for me that undoubtedly shaped the person that I am today.

by Shelley Schweitzer

May the Source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
And let us say: Amen.

The year was 1999 and the NFTY-Northeast Lakes (NFTY-NEL) community learned that there were big changes ahead. Long-time regional advisors Terry Pollack and Neil Poch would be retiring at the end of the calendar year. As the community’s members began to process that news, they learned, too, that a member of their NFTY family was ill – Terry’s wife Maxine had cancer. Teens from around the region wanted to do something, and youth workers were looking for ways to help the NFTY-NELers respond in a Jewish way.

by Sarah Ruben

I am a third-generation NFTYite and URJ camper, so it was a given that once I was old enough, I, too, would participate in NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement. When the time came for my first regional event, however, despite my familiarity with NFTY and my excitement at finally being a part of it, I was shy and nervous.

Until the dance session. When it was announced, I perked up, excited by the idea of doing something I’d been doing since childhood.

By Josh Nelson

I could see her sitting against the wall. She was different from the other kids, withdrawn and separated from the group. My grandmother would have called her “a bit of an odd duck.” She was just… other.

The kids leapt into the air, singing at the top of their lungs. “Ivdu et haShem b’simcha…” (Worship God with gladness) Arms intertwined, they called out with joy, lost in the extraordinary moment that is a Friday evening song session.