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I dare any of those who are uneasy about the North American Jewish future to maintain their pessimism after spending, as I have just done, 72 hours with the teen leaders of our Movement at the 2015 NFTY Convention and Youth Summit in Atlanta. I attend a lot of conferences, and I have never walked away from one feeling as inspired and energized as I am today. After spending time with 1,000 teens, upwards of 200 adults and an incredible group of more than 200 volunteers and URJ staff who live and share the values and dreams that we as Reform Jews seek to represent in the world, I am inspired by the power of our community and ready for a spirit-filled future.
I had the honor of sharing the bimah with NFTY's extraordinary president, Debbie Rabinovich from Temple Beth El in Charlotte, NC, as she and I presented a joint D'var Torah on Shabbat morning. Drawing insightfully on this week's Torah portion, Debbie observed that this convention marks a fundamental turning point for NFTY, as it embraces a more mission-driven future. "Never be afraid to go big! The more focused each of us is - the more change we can make." she said powerfully to a sea of NFTY teens.
It's been invigorating to see our teen leaders' dedication not only to their personal growth, but to tikkun olam, repairing the world. On Sunday, Teens heard from speaker Colin Goddard, survivor of the Virgina Tech shooting and advocate for gun violence prevention-a topic that NFTY is taking on head first in partnership with the RAC to advocate for safer communities. NFTY, at the Convention, also devoted time to issues of disabilities awareness and race relations.
At the same time as our NFTY teens are learning and getting energized, so are their advisors, educators and biggest supporters. We have over 200 professionals and stakeholders at the Youth Summit who are learning, networking and developing new concepts to engage more youth in their home communities. So many of the adults who are attending participated in NFTY and our incredible camping system themselves and we know that they will be joining the NFTY alumni network to continue to build and strengthen our movement.
Among the ways in which we "went big" this weekend was convening a first experience of its kind as NFTY and BBYO--who is concurrently holding their convention in Atlanta -- came together for a joint Shabbat study opportunity with over 3,500 teens invested in the future of Judaism. Religious Action Center Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner charged the crowd, the largest gathering of Jewish teens in American Jewish history, to work together to continue to break down barriers and together make a difference in the world.
This gathering marks NFTY's 75th Birthday and the beginning of the celebration of 50 years of the URJ's Kutz Camp. We closed our Monday evening plenary with a celebration that honored the legacy of a Movement that continues to inspire me every day. My friends, the Jewish future is in capable, passionate and committed hands. I know that the teen leaders and adults who work with them inspired me so much this weekend and that they will lead our community into a brighter future.