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by Julie Marsh
Many people wonder about the “magic” of NFTY, the power to bring teenagers together, create a holy community, and create lasting relationships. As a regional advisor, I am often asked how, when, and who creates that NFTY “magic.” To many, these questions are complicated, and to be honest, when it comes to my Florida region, NFTY-Southern Tropical Region (NFTY-STR), the answers are simple. The success and “magic” of NFTY-STR is the result of a vast support network. The adage, “It takes a village” could not be truer for us. Our NFTY-STR village is made up of NFTYites, alumni, congregations, and additional stakeholders who we have welcomed into our community over the years.
Our teenagers, the lifeblood of the region, drive the vision and work continuously to engage peers. They are inventors, dreamers, and visionaries. NFTY strives to enlighten and educate its members, and embraces the Reform value of “choice through knowledge” so that our teens can build robust and unique Jewish identities. Our community gives participants the opportunity to learn, teach, express who they are, and be comfortable with themselves and one another.
Yet teens comprise one sector of our regional community. The adults who work with them are equal partners in creating the “magic” of NFTY. They are the network who invest in us. Financial investments aside, there are dozens of people who contribute their time, energy, and wisdom to enhance our region. One of our many community partners, for example, is a printer we do business with who is genuinely interested and passionate about NFTY’s work.
Another set of investors are our clergy and youth professionals. They are a group of dedicated individuals who work together, always willing to help one another. They share ownership of successes and unite to find solutions when challenges arise.
Our volunteers support our regional community in a unique way. This group includes those who do not work for congregations, may have children who are NFTY-STR alumni, and who believe in our program from witnessing the “magic” happen. We are fortunate to have volunteers who help us with administrative tasks, those behind-the-scenes components that seem to just “get done.”
At NFTY-STR events, our teens look forward to shopping at our “shuk” (merchandise store). We are lucky to have volunteer shuk managers, who set up, run, break down, and inventory the shuk.
Our volunteers give up their own time to spend weekends with our teens. They enhance our region by sharing their values, laughing with our teens, and creating our k’hilah k’dushah - our holy community. Their voluntary investments of time and self are just as important to us as the financial investments; without heart we do not have a community.
Several of the volunteers that I speak of are members of my own family. Before every event, my husband assists me in ensuring that all forms are in hand and complete. My sister, a school teacher in Tampa, volunteers her time over winter break and attends our winter regional event. She often leads one of our adult-lead workshop series. The people who run our shuk — also known as Grandma and Grandpa STR — are my parents. They volunteer their time because they see how valuable NFTY is to our teens. They are as excited as our teens to add NFTY event dates to their calendars. They attend every event from beginning to end. When the buses arrive, our teens run to give Grandma and Grandpa STR hugs and kisses. Our teens benefit from having their presence, which greatly enriches each event.
NFTY-STR is literally about “generation to generation.” We don’t care about our region only during the years we are in it. Rather, we develop a belief system and a community that continues to give back and care about those involved for many, many years. We are about being supportive of one another and about believing in one another. NFTY-STR is not just about the present; it is about the past and future as well. It is about heart and the people that keep our heart beating.
Julie Marsh resides in Palm Beach County, FL, where she is beginning her fourth year as the Regional Advisor of NFTY-STR. She works with youth professionals, clergy, temple professionals, and lay leaders to find meaningful ways to engage teens. During the summer, Julie serves as the Visiting Faculty Liaison at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY.