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As every parent knows, when your child’s heart is bursting for joy, yours is, too. When your child’s heart is bursting for joy in anticipation before an event occurs, you’ve scored a gold mine. We’re at the “gold mine” level right now, as our daughter Shelby counts down to the upcoming NFTY Convention 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia! As I write this, the convention is just under four months away.
The 2015 convention will be Shelby’s second NFTY Convention; her first was in Los Angeles two years ago. Shelby is now a senior, and has attended almost every regional kallah since becoming a member in ninth grade. She has attended NFTY’s Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York, the past three summers (and pretty much has never wanted to leave!) and is planning to apply to be a staff member in-training this coming summer.
Words cannot begin to describe the incredible impact NFTY has had on Shelby. But I will try. To Shelby, NFTY means “home.” NFTY is a place where she can totally be herself and spread her wings. Where she can experience everything from laughter to tears, and feel safe in any mode. Where she can fully embrace her Jewish spirituality and define for herself what she’s comfortable with, without judgment from anyone.
The breadth and depth of life skills Shelby has gained during her NFTY years are ones that can’t be learned from a book, or even through classes or organizations in school. She has been invited innumerable times to take on leadership roles at conventions, which she has always embraced with enthusiasm and dedication. She has learned what it truly means to be a team player. She has learned how to work super hard to achieve goals that seemed unreachable. She has learned how to celebrate the joy of others even while she’s dealing with a disappointment. She has learned to embrace her individuality and be comfortable in her own shoes. Quite simply, she has learned to be Shelby.
When I was growing up, my mom always said, “If you have one true friend in this world, you’re lucky.” I’ve never mentioned this “advice” to Shelby because it’s been obvious that saying it would hold no merit. The countless friendships she has made with NFTY members as well as staff and spiritual leaders across the country and world are true friends and friends forever. Fortunately, today’s technology enables all of them to easily stay in touch, and their bonds continue to grow outside of NFTY experiences. Shelby’s NFTY friends stretch across a diversity of different types of people, and with compassion and caring and lots of laughter, they all enrich each other and help each other become the very best they can be. They love each other in the purest sense of the word.
So, let the countdown continue! I know the programs Shelby will be participating in at NFTY Convention 2015, the speakers she will hear, and the friendships she will renew and gain will be indescribably phenomenal. When Shelby departs for NFTY Convention, I will give her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and say “goodbye” with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Just a tinge of it will be for sadness because I will miss her, but mostly because the joy is just that great.
PS: Shelby’s dad Steve (my husband) agrees!