“And you shall order schnitzel…”
By Bradley Egel
People frequently talk about generational leadership. The Hebrew phrase, l’dor vador, literally means “from generation to generation,” and is most often applied to the handing down of leadership from one generation to the next. If a person is lucky enough to be present at a bar or bat mitzvah, they likely will see the symbolic “handing of the Torah” from one generation to the next. It is an ideal. It is a wonderful hope: that the next generation of Jewish leaders will take the skills and talents their mentors have passed onto them, and in turn, nourish and enrich themselves enough to continue this leadership chain as they go through life’s journey.
But there is no magic formula to make this happen. Many people become disengaged from their Jewish communities, their families, their core friends, and even their own ideals that at one time seemed so important. Why does this happen? Why do we lose touch with the people and things that at one time in our life meant so much to us?
Youth involvement and engagement with NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, is more like learning a foreign language than riding a bike. I took German classes in high school more than 20 years ago. I learned a lot of German. I even ordered my food in German on a class field trip to a German restaurant in downtown Chicago during Oktoberfest. It was a great schnitzel. Ah, the memories. And yet, after a couple of years, I had completely forgotten nearly all the German I was taught. To this day I only remember how to say a few words, and of course ask, “Where is the bathroom?” Unlike the ability to ride a bike with little effort after many years of not riding, I lost the ability to speak German because I did not make it a priority or have a connection with it in my life. And so it went away. No more schnitzel ordering for me.
My NFTY experience has been completely the opposite. I never distanced myself from it. I knew inherently that without utilizing and passing down ideals of NFTY youth leadership, I would lose touch with everything I had grown to love so much about being part of the NFTY community. If a person does not regularly reactivate their connection with NFTY, their interest tends to turn towards other things. And then, no NFTY schnitzel for you.
I have been consistently involved with NFTY programming for more than 20 years — in the roles of participant, staff, advisor, and now as the youth chairperson on my synagogue’s board of directors. Why have I stayed involved while others have not? Surely some of these reasons reside within me. It certainly helps that I am from the closely-knit and highly enmeshed Chicago-area region, formerly known as CFTY. As I go from synagogue to synagogue and event to event, at least one person from my days in CFTY appears, and this always rekindles the flame of nostalgia and brings a feeling of closeness and community.
But I credit most of my ongoing connection with NFTY to NFTY’s enduring alumni engagement and the importance placed on mentoring within NFTY. This has both kept my interest in NFTY fresh and meaningful, and also allowed me to pass on what I have learned to the current generation of NFTY leaders. I am keenly aware that there were those that came before me who allowed me to experience NFTY fully as a participant. Those people changed the trajectory of my life, helped shape my dreams, and helped make those dreams a reality by giving me the confidence to follow through and turn those dreams into attainable goals! I hope that through my continued involvement, the NFTY leaders of today will remain engaged so that they inspire engagement, intrigue, and outreach for the next generation. L’dor vador . . . from generation to generation…schnitzel for all.
Bradley Egel is a member of Beth Tikvah Congregation and youth chair for their board of directors, a former NFTYite (1988 – 1992), former advisor, cancer charity advocate, teacher, musician, and optimist. Brad lives in Buffalo Grove, IL, with his wife, Jodi, and their three kids.