Back in September, I wrote an article for the URJ about how my flame was rekindled. A lot has changed since September, including the safety of the American Jews. In the weeks leading up to NFTY Convention, JCCs and synagogues have been threatened, and just as I am writing this article, reports of vandalism of a Jewish cemetery are coming out. Every day it feels as though the safety and security of the Jewish people is tested.
As a Director of Youth Engagement at Adath Emanu-El, my primary concern is to ensure the physical, mental, and emotional safety of each child, teen, and volunteer on any given trip or event. So traveling through the airport was, at the very least, a harrowing experience. The trip to Chicago was a six-hour state of heightened awareness, spent thinking things like, “does that contain nuts?” or “I counted them all 10 minutes ago, let me just get a recount to be safe,” all while trying to look as calm as possible.
When we arrived in Chicago, the convention staff, in their blue vests, met us and helped the teens board the bus, and I made my way to the hotel, and everything calmed down. I had a chance to breathe, see and hug my colleagues and friends, and checked into my room. NFTY Convention was starting, and worry gave way to a special calm and feeling.
NFTY Convention facilitates that special feeling because it transforms a hotel into a special place for teens to come together, to temporarily escape the world, and to be Jewish together on a grand scale. During convention, the AEFTY members spent time taking agency in their world by voting in elections at plenary, learning about social justice issues, and taking part in community service projects. They heard from speakers, saw their peers give Divrei Torah, and became part of the initial roll out of NFTY’s racial justice initiative. The teens also took part in innovative prayer services and sang with the Reform movement’s most acclaimed song leaders.
Seeing our teens taking part in this experience, helped heighten that flame that I wrote about in September. It reminded me why it’s my job to worry for them, so that they can develop love for Judaism without having to associate worry with their Judaism.
This trip would not have been possible without the help of so many in our community. I want to thank YAC, Men’s Club, and Sisterhood who each contributed to funding this trip. I want to thank each family whose investment in this trip has helped build their teen’s future, as well as the future of the entire Reform Jewish movement.
Director of Youth Engagement