“We Must Live for Today; We Must Build for Tomorrow”: Social Action in NFTY

By Sophie Foxman

The concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) was introduced into Judaism in the early rabbinic period. It was introduced to me — and has shaped my life in astonishing ways since then — when I entered NFTY.

Growing up, I idealistically believed I could do anything and help everyone, a concept understood by my friends, counselors, and others at URJ Camp George, where I spent my summers.  That’s where the seeds of my desire to be part of something bigger than myself initially were planted.

Those seeds blossomed during many summers at Camp George.  By the time I was in high school, I was nearly bursting with a desire to inspire change. The only thing missing was a place where I felt comfortable enough to speak my mind. I desperately needed a community that shared my commitment to and excitement about tikkun olam.

Lucky for me, one of my best friends from Camp George reached out to me with a line I will never forget:  “Hey Sophie, you should come to NFTY.  Trust me, you’ll love it!”

To say that line was an understatement would be one itself. I dove headfirst into the NFTY community, learning, growing, and being guided by the same principles that I had been trying to incorporate into my own life.

Among NFTY’s 13 principles, three in particular stood out to me.  The first two, tikkun olam and kehilah (community) were right up my alley!  What could be better than a community dedicated to repairing the world?   The third principle that excited me was tikkun middot, which emphasizes the importance of creating an environment in which individuals can improve themselves, as well as meet and exceed their potential as Jews and citizens.

Only when saw someone with the title of Social Action Vice President at my first NFTY regional event did I realize the potential of this amazing organization. Through meaningful programming, exciting fundraisers and hands-on community service, NFTY was able to help me shift my mindset from “Wow, I want to make a difference” to “Wow, I can make a difference.”

Feeling so empowered led me to explore NFTY’s social action history.

Through my research, I learned that NFTY has always been at the forefront in supporting human rights and justice for all, and that our work in this area is inspired by the teaching in Genesis that all people are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God).  NFTY was at the March on Washington, supporting Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for equality and civil rights. NFTY also supported Ethiopian Jews making aliyah to Israel by establishing Project REAP (Reform Movement’s Ethiopian Jewry Assistance Program).  NFTY always has been — and will continue to be — a beacon of hope, help, and understanding for those in the world who struggle for equality, for freedom, for survival.  Knowing how much of NFTY’s rich history is immersed in social action, I was thrilled to be a part of this active youth movement.

In Genesis 3:9, God asks Adam and Eve, “Ayeka?” (“Where are you?”)

Heinini!” (“Here I am.”) Adam replies.

This simple interaction encapsulates NFTY.

Where are we?

Here we are, moving forward to change the world.

Inspired by the work of NFTY and the confidence it gives its members, I decided to run for Social Action Vice President of the Northeast Lakes Region. When my peers elected me, I had yet another shift in perspective when I realized, “Wow, I am making a difference.”

Singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman, z”l, in her song “And the Youth Shall See Visions,” wrote these lyrics: “We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow.” Indeed, NFTY sees a vision for a brighter future, and just as Debbie’s lyrics ring out, so too do we strive to live for today and build for tomorrow.

With my time in NFTY ending soon, I am especially thankful for what it has given me, and for the tremendous impact it is making — and will continues to make — on the world. When asked, I still tell people that when I grow up, I want to change the world. Thanks to NFTY I have the foundation and the confidence to step up and say “Heinini!” (“Here I am to help.”)

Sophie Foxman, a senior at TanenbaumCHAT in Thornhill, Ontario, is the 2013-14 NFTY-NEL Social Action Vice President. She also is a dreamer, a mover, a shaker, and a world-changer.

We are grateful to Women of Reform Judaism who have supported NFTY for 75 years and continue their generosity as Inaugural Donors to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.

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