Why - and How - Our Temple is Sending as Many Teens as Possible to NFTY Convention

Inside Leadership

Why - and How - Our Temple is Sending as Many Teens as Possible to NFTY Convention

A group of teens laughing together in costume at NFTY Convention

Nurturing our youth is a high priority for every Reform congregation. Luckily, for Reform congregations, there are many resources for young people to connect locally, regionally, and globally. NFTY provides a vehicle for engagement, for growth, for leadership development, and for a lifelong commitment to service. When encouraged and provided with support, teens can participate without undue burden on families or their own resources.  

This year, I set myself a personal challenge to get teens from our congregation to Dallas for NFTY Convention in February 2019. Six young people from my medium-sized congregation will be in attendance. It is not a cheap event – as the cost of doing business continues to rise, so too does the cost of engaging the next generation. With hotel, travel and program costs, NFTY Convention is an expensive undertaking, but one that I believe is worth it.  

Here are two steps I encouraged my congregation to take to ensure as many teens as possible can attend:  

  1. I talked with congregational leaders, especially those who had also served as president, about donating airline miles and dollars. Donating airline miles is a relatively painless but generous opportunity to make a meaningful gift, while monetary donations went into a fund that the youth advisor could use along with congregational, Federation, and discretionary fund support to get these young leaders to Dallas.  
  2. We publicized NFTY Convention broadly. Individuals and our brotherhood stepped up to provide support, which has made it possible for all who want to go to Convention to be able to do so. With so many people getting involved, the effort succeeded. Every young adult attending the Convention will be receiving some sort of support, and every attendee will be contributing to the effort, as well. No one received a “free ride,” but we did everything we could to support these teens in attending. 

Why bother doing this?  When a teen engages meaningfully in youth group, the entire community benefits – and should thus be supportive. The URJ’s recent alumni impact study affirms the importance of youth experiences in helping young people thrive and actively choose Jewish engagement as adults.  

These young adults will be the leaders of tomorrow. In part, that’s why NFTY youth group programs exist. While bake sales and small-scale fundraisers are well within the capability of a youth group, the sums these days for participating in regional, let alone North American, efforts are not inconsequential. As a Movement, it’s imperative that we support them in participating in these experiences. Teens’ time is precious and frequently limited, so to relieve from them the financial stress that active engagement demands becomes a responsibility not just of parents but of the community.  

Our rabbi emeritus, who is celebrating his fiftieth year in the rabbinate, told me recently, “I would not have become a rabbi had it not been for my being a part of NFTY as a teenager.” How many more rabbis and congregational leaders can and will say the same thing? As many as we can get to NFTY Convention and other immersive Jewish youth experiences. 

What I did wasn’t rocket science. Local initiatives are essential to the health and stability of the Reform Movement, and encouraging colleagues and friends to step up and provide support for the essential well-being of our youth programs needs to be a high priority for all of us. With these investments today, we’ll enjoy a bright future of passionate leaders tomorrow.  

Only a few days left for you and your teens to register for NFTY Convention. Scholarships are available from NFTY – act fast! Register by January 8 at nftyconvention.org.

Stanley R. Levy is the past president of Temple Emanu El in Orange Village, OH, and of Sinai Temple in Champaign, IL.

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