by Rabbi Eve Rudin


Those are the names of the 21 NFTY Regions I grew up with in the 80s. And, yes, we used to have contests to see who could recite them the fastest. When I was active on the North American level, I knew what each “–FTY” stood for.

But there was a problem. There’s a saying in Hebrew, hu meiveen yaveen (he who understands understands), and in this case, only an elite few knew that all 21 regions were actually all part of one organization―a Movement. Stories would pour into the NFTY office about people who would meet on college campuses and say, for example, “I grew up in MSTY” or “I grew up in CRaFTY.” While they would “kinda sorta” figure out that they were similar groups, it was never explicitly clear that they were, in fact, part of the same Youth Movement, one with a shared mission, vision, and set of core values.

Perhaps some of you remember the incredibly popular camp song by Allan Sherman that was a hit in 1963. It speaks to how connections are quickly made at camp as well as how important it is to be connected back home.

We often speak of "bringing camp home" - but really, it is about connecting what we do powerfully during the summer to our congregations and delivering vibrant, profound and authentic Judaism 12-months a year. For campers, congregants, and clergy alike, it is important that we see the summer experience as extensions of our congregations, whether they're in Israel, a URJ camp, Costa Rica, day camp or any other Jewish summer program - even for us who stay home. Four hundred congregations are sending kids to a URJ camp, NFTY Israel trip, or Mitzvah Corps program, and it is exciting to think about being audaciously hospitable to all the participants.

By Rabbi Lisa Silverstein Tzur

In 1982, a rabbi placed a guitar in my arms, taught me four basic chords, and inspired by Hillel’s famous quote, declared, “With these four chords you can play any Jewish song. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Indeed, in the 1980s, NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, continued to develop and deepen our connection to Judaism through creating and singing new Jewish songs. We learned, we taught, and we sang with enthusiasm and tremendous passion.

Song sessions were about creating sacred community. In the early 80s, microphones were frowned upon by those who felt that the use of electronic equipment would affect the relationship between leader and participant, turning the session into a performance-oriented event. Without the electronic boost, song leaders had to work a bit harder, but the result was the creation of sweet three-part harmonies and a strong emphasis on collective singing.

Taking the words of the prophet Joel as the refrain of her 1981 classic song “And The Youth Shall See Visions,” Debbie Friedman captured the role of young people in our Movement:

And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions, And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.

For 75 years, the Reform Youth Movement has inspired our young to boldly revitalize Jewish life with their creativity and commitment. Too often adults expect youth to be just like them, but the job of youth is not to be the caretaker of the status quo. We do not need them to download our agendas into their spiritual hard drives, but rather to help us see the Jewish future through their visions.

This past February I was privileged to join 35 of our stellar NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) leaders at the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) convention in Dallas. Many people wondered what were we doing there — “Isn’t BBYO the rival of NFTY?” But our remarkable youth leaders did the math: Together, NFTY and BBYO reach only 3.5% of North American Jewish teens. To engage more of their peers, they decided to move beyond rivalry to partnership.

By Andrew Keene and Debbie Rabinovich

Our tradition teaches us to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week and make it holy. We mark this separation and transition into the regular week withHavdalah. On some weeks, we take the opportunity to savor the transition time and prolong the Havdalah experience. In NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, this Shabbat is one that we will savor for a few extra moments as we install the newly elected NFTY North American Board. The installation will occur at the Union for Reform Judaism Kutz Camp, the home of NFTY and Inspired Engagement.

The NFTY Board installation ceremony is the actualization of the concept of hanhagah l'dorot, Generational Leadership. Past and present NFTY leaders partake in witnessing and installing the newly charged North American leadership in a tradition that transcends generations of NFTY leadership.

Working with teenagers is simply heartwarming. We experienced this yet again at our recent Havdala Under the Stars, Congregation Or Ami’s year-end gathering of our Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) youth program.

Picture this: a large group of teens, 7th to 12th grades, sitting around a campfire, singing songs, playing games, and grouping and regrouping in ever changing configurations of young people. Bucking trends in Jewish life - where so many teens drop out soon after b'nai mitzvah - these teens showed up smiling. (Thanks to the URJ's Campaign for Youth Engagement, we rethought our entire youth program.)

Rabbi Julie Weisz, the energetic visionary behind Congregation Or Ami’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, invited the teens to reflect upon what made their Triple T time so meaningful. The responses were heartwarming:

By Richard Rosenthal

Partaking in annual traditions are what highlight family values to me. For example, watching the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade together, using the same afikoman cover year after year, and preparing a special meal for Rosh HaShanah are some special traditions that come to mind. Along that continuum, there is a tradition that blossomed over 25 years ago at URJ Camp Coleman in the North Georgia Mountains called Camp Jenny. This tradition happens every year, when camp organizers come together with 125 NFTYites to share their values, and to offer their love, leadership, and guidance to approximately 150 under-privileged children who engage in camp activities over Memorial Day weekend.

When I was growing up, I never met any rabbis other than my congregation’s rabbi. Dr. Renov (we never called him ‘rabbi’) was a scholar. Our congregation, Temple Judea, was small and he served there part-time. Dr. Renov also taught college and perhaps the academic arena was his first love. While he was a nice man, Dr. Renov did not exactly have a way with children or teens. He was formal and reserved. Our confirmation class was made up of three boys. On Sunday mornings, we would meet with Dr. Renov in his small overheated office. I don’t remember what we studied in his class, but I do remember the musty smell of the room, the hiss of the radiator, and struggling to stay awake.

By Sophie Foxman

The concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) was introduced into Judaism in the early rabbinic period. It was introduced to me — and has shaped my life in astonishing ways since then — when I entered NFTY.

Growing up, I idealistically believed I could do anything and help everyone, a concept understood by my friends, counselors, and others at URJ Camp George, where I spent my summers.  That’s where the seeds of my desire to be part of something bigger than myself initially were planted.

NFTY in the 1960s was remarkably like NFTY today.  Except in those areas where it was different.

It was the same because, in most ways, kids are the same.

Adolescence is a tumultuous time when kids are suddenly vulnerable and suddenly sexual.  They are desperate to know who cares about them.  They want to find a place where they belong.  They love their parents, but also can’t stand the sight of their parents.  They care too much about clothes and body image.  They are caught up in a need to fit in, but also a need to rebel.