by Nina Muller., NFTY-EIE Spring 2012 Alumna
The spring semester of my sophomore year of high school, I went on NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. I initially found out about the program through a friend of mine in my temple youth group (TYG) who had gone the previous year. My friend described EIE as a program in which Jewish teenagers came together to learn, pray, travel, and form incredible friendships. She described a cohesive and warm community in which she made some of her best friends and connected with Jewish teens from all over the US. I was enthralled.
A little backstory about me: I’m a high school senior, I live in Chapel Hill, NC, and I am an active member of my temple youth group, DRTY, as well as NFTY-MAR. I’ve been going to MAR events for over five years, and I absolutely love the feeling of community that comes with a close-knit group of Jewish teenagers. Being a part of MAR was instrumental in my decision to go on EIE—I thrived in this community in which you could easily become close friends with someone in 48 hours. In MAR I was introduced to types of services that were fun and diverse and which I always looked forward to. I expected, simply, that EIE would be an 18 week long MAR event. In some regards, I was right—the community was welcoming and cohesive, the services were interesting, and the friendships that I made were long lasting and meaningful. There were also aspects of EIE that were unique to the program and were wonderful. The classes were fascinating, the teachers were engaged and engaging, the country was fantastic, the field trips were enlightening, and the culture was engrossing. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed every aspect of the program. It was simply incredible.
Through MAR, I had developed a passion for leading services, which manifested in my being a songleader the semester before I went on EIE. Upon my arrival to Kibbutz Tzuba, I learned that there was a “t’filah committee” which was responsible for planning and leading services. I volunteered to be on the committee, and I planned one or two services every weekend for the duration of the program. In MAR, when I stood on the bimah leading services, it felt like I was praying with about two hundred of my closest friends; on EIE, it was even more powerful, as I was actually praying with seventy of my closest friends.
Before joining the t’filah committee, I had never written services before, as the position of songleader only involved leading services. On EIE, I learned how to write services, both traditional and experiential (for example, a meditation service or a walking service), which inspired me to return to MAR and become head songleader. As head songleader, I was responsible for collaborating with my co-head songleader, the MAR Religious and Cultural Vice President (RCVP), and an adult songleading liaison to write and lead services. EIE had made me realize that not only was I competent enough to lead engaging services, but I was also able to write interesting and meaningful services. I loved standing in front of a group of people and leading them in prayer, and that feeling had become such an important piece of my life. At the end of my junior year, I decided to run to be MAR’s RCVP so that I could continue to grow as a leader and give back to the incredible community that I loved so much. I was elected, and have had an absolutely amazing time on regional board.
My time on EIE was invaluable to my positive experience on regional board. On EIE, I learned how to work with a group of teenagers in many different settings: while planning services, while doing group projects, while participating in an army training simulation for a week, and while going through the tough emotional challenges that go along with being away for four months. I learned how to depend on my peers, and I grew as a friend and as a person.
I won the “Hardest Worker” Award of our Gadna program (Israeli army training simulation), and I had the highest grade in my Jewish History course. I learned how to work closely with a group of teenagers without supervision, and I learned how to stand in front of a group of people and convince them that, no, I TOTALLY meant to skip v’shamru. I learned to laugh off mistakes and embarrassments, and to put everything I had into the things I loved and be okay with the outcomes. I began to realize that I felt the strongest sense of community during services. Standing in the front of the room, leading my friends in prayer—this was where I felt the most community.
As my time as RCVP of MAR comes to a close, I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia for my time on EIE as well (a stronger nostalgia than I usually feel, that is). I’m sure that the skills that I’ve gained during both of these amazing experiences will continue to shape what I do in life, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to be involved in service writing and leading in college, and beyond.