Teens, Power, and NFTY – Growing our Reform Youth Movement

December 12, 2022Michelle Shapiro Abraham, MAJE, RJE

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of being at the "NFTY-GER Ball," one of the many NFTY events being run by Reform teen leaders across North America. A room full of teens gathered at Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, NJ to dance, laugh, get to know one another, and celebrate Jewish life. As the program wrapped up, I saw a teen speaking with NFTY-GER president Daisy Nashel, sharing their excitement and how much they enjoyed being together with everyone. Daisy asked the teen about their interests and what made them decide to come to the program. The teen was an eighth grader, just starting their NFTY journey, but after having a taste that day, they were eager to find a home in NFTY.

"We'd love to have you join the leadership team and help us build this up," Daisy said. "Do you want to join the cabinet?" Phone numbers were exchanged, plans were made, and next conversations were set. By the time Daisy left that day, she had had three such conversations and three new teens, in addition to the seven already on the leadership team who had committed to working with her to build the NFTY they want now.

This is what a growing movement looks like; it provides a glimpse into the NFTY emerging across North America. Teens, supported by adult partners and mentors, are building a Reform Youth Movement they are proud of - so proud that they are bringing in other teens to lead beside them.

As we build the Reform Youth Movement, we are taking inspiration from community organizing strategies. While many view community organizing as limited to social justice, community organizing is actually an impactful relational strategy that teaches people to actualize their own power and create the movement they want to be a part of - whether that movement is celebrating Jewish life, working to repair the world, or gathering to support one another through life's ups and downs. Like Daisy's conversation at the NFTY-GER Ball, community organizing begins with meaningful conversations that build connection, power, and excitement. We know that this is how the most important things in the world grow - two people having an authentic conversation with each other, discovering their power and value, and creating the community and world they want to see.

This work is not simple; it doesn't always move forward in a linear fashion; nor does it emerge everywhere in the same ways. However, we are seeing bursts of power as teens like Daisy create the Jewish life they want for themselves and their peers. We are seeing teen-led movements that reflect the true diversity of our community, and that are deeply rooted in Justice, Belonging, Learning, Evolving, Israel, and Jewish Peoplehood.

Are you ready to strengthen this movement with us? Here's what you can do:

  1. Get to know the URJ Youth Organizing Team (YOT) and our North American NFTY Board - this new URJ team spans across the URJ to support teen leadership. Their work includes NFTY, Fellowships, and emerging opportunities for gathering, creating, and celebrating, all led by teens and adult partners.
  2. Join the Mailing List - Twice a month we send out information about local NFTY and North American opportunities. Join the mailing list to make sure you are up to date on events for you and the teens in your community.
  3. Learn with us - Learn how to bring the strategies we are using to build up the Reform Youth Movement in your own congregation. Join our training workshops for adults and teens or our six-week Youth Professionals Organizing Intensive for any synagogue leader working directly with teens, taught by Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll, URJ Director of Youth Organizing for local communities and synagogues.
  4. Host a NFTYx event - Like Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, NJ, synagogues across North America are working in partnership with their NFTY regional mentors and local teen leaders to host experiences. We know this movement is strongest when the full community leans in and supports our teens to build their movement. Learn how to host a NFTYx event and contact your regional mentor to get started.
  5. Bring your teens to one of the 10 NFTY retreats happening at camp across North America - Over the next five months our NFTY teen leaders, regional mentors, and URJ camp leadership are collaborating to create dynamic, welcoming, and powerful weekend teen experiences. Save the date and keep an eye out in the regular emails or on NFTY or camp websites for details.
  6. Make a donation to make NFTY accessible to all - The costs of running full retreats continues to rise. Help make NFTY and the Reform Youth Movement accessible to all teens in our community by making a donation to our scholarship fund!
  7. Suggest a teen - Our regional mentors and teen leaders are having 1:1 conversations with teens who are dreaming of big things, are natural connectors, or are brimming with potential. Sound like a teen you know? Reach out to your regional mentor and make the introduction!

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