As if a twelve hour travel day wasn’t enough of an experience on its own, it was not until I pulled into the camp grounds of Camp Burton in Vashon Island, Washington for NFTY-Northwest’s Fall Kallah that I experienced the real beginning of my journey. Upon arriving, I was instantly thrown into the Northwest culture. I was swept up quickly into the excitements of seeing old friends, meeting new ones, engaging in programming and services, and falling in love with NFTY all over again.
What Northwest had to offer was no different, at least at first glance, from any other region that I had participated in, but the passion that they brought to each act of relationship-building was uniquely their own. The community came together and was completely and totally accepting of every member who entered. There was no prejudice. There was no condescension. There was no gossiping. Every participant seemed to check all of these things at the door.
Within NFTY, we hear day in and day out about creating inclusive and loving environments for all teens. Our campaigns on ending bullying and GLBTQ awareness work tirelessly to eradicate hatred from our participants and do a pretty darn good job of it, if I do say so myself. But Northwest was a totally different experience. It was as if the concept of bullying didn’t touch the region.
The evening program, for example, was a talent show that featured the best that NFTY-NW had to offer. Among all of the skits, musical acts, and performances, there was never anything short of glowing support, loving congratulations, and deep affection. This is something that should most definitely be the norm within our movement, but NFTY-NW seemed to have perfected it.
After returning home at the end of the event, I was asked if I was going to return to NFTY-NW for a later event. The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. However, if ever there was a region that created an environment I’d like to be part of, it was this one.
Within Judaism, we are taught that we should act as “a light unto the nations,” that our actions are more than just about us, that we have a responsibility to guide others along the way, even if we are still finding the way ourselves. As a NFTYite, I am proud and heartened by the light that NFTY-NW shines from their region, and it brings me such joy to know that similar guiding lights are generated all over the country. Thank you to all who participated who did such a beautiful job of including me and making me feel welcome in this potentially foreign land.
I guess West really is best.
Austin Zoot is the NFTY North American Religious and Cultural Vice President and a freshman at Indiana University. You can find him on twitter at @NFTYRCVP and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NFTYRCVP