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By Josh Leighton
I’m currently in the midst of laundering, organizing, and preparing to fly off to Atlanta for NFTY Convention and the Youth Summit. Along with my clothes and NFTY “swag”, I am also packing and bringing with me my excitement for what is sure to be an amazing, insightful, and fruitful four days. In much the same way as when I was a teen, every two years as a professional I get excited about attending NFTY Convention and immersing myself in the special and unique environment that is created when 1,000 teens and 200 adults come to together to share experiences and celebrate Judaism. Of all of the collaboration, learning, and moments that I am looking forward to over this extended weekend, three stand out above the rest: reconnecting with old friends and networking with new people, being part of the NFTY-BBYO shared moments, and returning home refreshed and re-focused.
Reconnecting with old friends and networking with new people:
One of the greatest things about NFTY Convention and the Youth Summit is the opportunity to reunite with so many people I have met and befriended over the years. This ranges from old friends from my time as a NFTY participant, those I have met at various college programs, campers and staff members from my URJ camp experiences, friends and colleagues from my time as a rabbinical student at HUC, and those who I have had the opportunity to meet these last few years out in the field. I also look forward to meeting so many new people at the Youth Summit, many of whom might be new to the profession. When we all gather, reminisce, share stories, and learn about all of the great work that we each do in our communities, the networking opportunities and the sense of shared purpose are unparalleled.
Being part of the NFTY-BBYO shared moments:
Perhaps my favorite part of being a youth professional is having the opportunity to see my students find a home at NFTY events and at camp. On top of that, I love being able to share all of those moments that help me build even stronger relationships with my students. The joint programming between NFTY and BBYO this Shabbat at Convention will be historical in terms of collaboration, and the sheer size of the combined community we will create. I also looking forward to seeing see some of my former students and campers who have found their home in BBYO. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share this moment with BBYO, and to strengthen my relationships with these teens, just as I have with our NFTY teens.
Coming home refreshed and refocused:
All of the conferences I attend, be they URJ Biennials, CCAR conventions, or NFTY Conventions, help to feed my soul, awaken my spirit, and energize me to push forward with my work in the congregation and the greater Jewish world. I am looking forward to this same thing happening at the Youth Summit and NFTY Convention. I am excited to network with my peers. I am excited to see, feel, and immerse myself in the energy that comes from our teens. And, I am even more excited to come home refreshed and refocused on building a youth program and a culture of youth engagement within my community.
I’ll see you in Atlanta!
Josh Leighton serves as the Rabbi for the Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon in Kinnelon/Pompton Lakes, NJ. He is a member of the CCAR, serves on the faculty at URJ Camp Harlam, and is part of the NFTY-GER Clergy Team. Rabbi Josh is a proud alum of NFTY-GER.