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By Rose Snitz
As people gather and voices come together in harmony, the holiness of the space begins to form. From Shabbat services in local communities to regional Havdalah services, to closing rituals during the North American Convention, there’s always an unexplainable feeling of connection and community at NFTY events.
Picture yourself overlooking a group of 300 Jewish teens. Are they in a circle with songleaders and service leaders in the center? Are they seated in traditional rows with the leaders up front? Or are they outside at a camp by the lake? NFTY has a unique way of morphing camp-style and traditional services into one, and beyond. What do you hear upon entering into the prayer space? You hear the warm sound of guitars strumming, voices singing, and people laughing.
With this image in your mind, think about what goes on behind-the-scenes for service leaders. What questions are asked? What is taken into account during the planning process? Teen service leaders work with clergy to plan the kind of service they want to create — from the theme of a service, to where the worship will take place. After that, they work with songleaders to create the ‘sound’ of the service. In NFTY, music is an essential part of worship. It’s the key to break down barriers to connect with our heritage through prayer.
Are NFTY services more engaging than other services for teens? Yes and no. Some teens connect better during NFTY worship because their peers are leading the services. Other teens feel more comfortable due to the amount of music that is present. Yet for others, services are always an internal battle. What can we do to address this? Leaders struggle with the challenge.
Last November, I served on a panel with Andrew Keene, NFTY President, Danielle Rodnizki, soloist at Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater, Florida, and Toby Pechner, a recent NFTY alum, which was facilitated by the Jewish musician Dan Nichols and Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music to address this very topic: How can we make worship more meaningful and engaging for youth? The four of us, as well as social media through Dan, were asked a series of questions that aren’t typically asked of young adults. For example, we were asked, “When do you feel heard? When don’t you feel heard? What do you want and need in worship?”
The most popular answers — to what we need in worship — include using music and unconventional methods of prayer. This includes services that use social media, yoga services, using secular music that relates to prayer, and singing the Hebrew words of a song (like Adon Olam) to Backstreet Boys’ music.
Our panel concluded that while these are methods that work well, the most important thing is to continue to build the relationships between adult leadership and the next generation.
NFTY is a perfect model of generationalleadership, especially in worship. Clergy members help teens, and teens help younger teens. This happens throughout the planning process and the actual service, whether it’s the service leader having their younger peer read a prayer or have an aliyah.
During the reader’s Kaddish NFTY shows how it’s a family. At a NFTY service, if a NFTYite has just lost someone, they’re remembering a yahrzeit, or even if we’ve lost someone in the greater community, it feels as if the entire congregation at the time is mourning. For example, when Sam Sommer, z’l, (a.k.a. Superman Sam) died while many of us were attending the URJ Biennial, at Shabbat services the entire NFTY section stood up during the Mourner’s Kaddish to remember him.
NFTY truly is a k’hilah kedoshah, a holy community.
Rose Snitz is an active and engaged NFTYite living in Tulsa, OK, where she is a music Madricha and Hebrew tutor at Temple Israel. She is and alumna of the URJ Greene Family Camp and NFTY in Israel. Rose currently serves as the RCVP of OKATY (Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City) as well as a NFTY-TOR Regional Songleader.