Written by Andrew Keene, NFTY-Northern President from Milwaukee, WI.
I had been through the process three times before. Twice as a regional board, once as a TYG board. It’s no one’s favorite activity but one vital to coexisting and working with a group. On the first day of Majors at the URJ Kutz Camp, the Regional Board Major had been charged with the task of blending over 20 voices into one brit, covenant. The concept of a brit is described 285 times in the Torah which in my opinion legitimizes the holiness and importance of crafting such a document.
The process of watching members of the major make a case for their line of the covenant was intriguing. After a full day of debate and conversation, additions and subtractions, spell-checks, and revisions, a unanimously approved brit emerged.
While many of the items on the brit were fully agreeable, a few propositions were not. It was in the most heated of moments, I realized the importance of this document. Taking a step back from the conversation, it occurred to me each of us was here for one reason; to make NFTY better. The most heated moments of this process were the ones I was most proud to be a member of NFTY; an organization whose leaders are not afraid to argue for what they believe is not only right but best for the movement.
Near the end of the process I found myself debating with another regional board member about including a proposed clause in the brit. When things seemed to be going nowhere, the Regional Board Major Instructor, Sarah Ruben asked me “Can we add this to the brit since it’s important to someone in the group?”
This question really made me think about the role of a community. Does the community embrace each individual or is it the job of the individual to conform to the community? Hillel teaches us “If I am not for myself, who will be for me.” Until Sarah’s question, this was my approach to making a case for the items on our brit. If I didn’t speak up and play devil’s advocate, who would? Hillel also teaches us “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Sarah’s question spoke to this concept. Even though I personally did not feel the clause in debate was not productive, another member in the community did. A community, whether a congregation, a town, or even a Kutz Major, should in fact embrace each individual such that each individual feels comfortable and accepted.
Another important lesson that came out of the process of constructing a covenant was the importance of a name. In Judaism, we emphasize the importance of a name. Jewish custom instruct us to name children with meaningful names that often reflect a prominent member of the family; sometimes one that has passed away. Before signing our brit we all took the time to share the history and significance of each of our names. Hearing where each of our names takes root was fascinating. Some named after grandparents, celebrities, or even just a baby name book.
In the end, all of our names came together to sign our brit. Watching everyone inscribe his/her name was a meaningful experience. Not only were we taking part in a process that has been done before us and will continue to be done after us, hundreds of years of history and tradition stand behind each of our names. Signing our names on this document was more than a personal testament. It was an affirmation of the values and teachings that were passed onto us; an affirmation that in my opinion would make our predecessors and ancestors, that carried our name and title, proud.
Next summer, in five summers, and in fifty summers, when participants walk through the halls of the Arts building and see our brit hanging on the wall, I can only hope that it’s title serves as a reminder of the work and dedication that not only went into writing this brit, but also the work the Regional Board Major of 5772 did to move NFTY forward in a new and meaningful direction.