By Michael Sobin, NFTY Northern President
Boarding the plane from Chicago to Washington D.C., I knew that I wasn’t going to any ordinary NFTY event. Sure, I had been to Mechinah and Convention earlier this year with hundreds of fellow board members and NFTYites from across the country, but this seemed different. The headlines were astounding: the world’s largest gathering of Reform Jews ever, the last event of URJ President Eric Yoffie, and an address by the President of the United States. But even more exciting was the Biennial agenda, which focused significantly on youth. Each time we NFTYites entered the main hall 6,000 Biennial attendees stood up and applauded us like we were rock stars. They also took part in our spirited singing during song sessions, encouraging us to join them in dances they used to do in their youth. An even stronger message came later from President Obama himself, during a rousing shout-out to NFTY by saying, “Young people are going to lead the way, and they ARE leading the way.” It truly fits with Rabbi Yoffie’s and incoming URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ youth engagement initiative. When we were first greeted, Rabbi Yoffie told us “You (NFTYites) are the leaders of this movement.” The remainder of the event, I noticed that people who had once said “NFTY is the future of Reform Judaism” begin to understand Rabbi Yoffie’s words, and instead of leading us, followed us. It made me incredibly proud to be a leader in this movement.
The rest of the NFTY Leaders Assembly was unbelievable. There was fabulous programming from the North American Board on personal expression, leading possibly to the first book on NFTY, by NFTY, for NFTY. We were taken on a tour of the capital, where I personally witnessed for the very first time monuments that I had only seen on TV. I watched David Broza and Craig Taubman live, singing songs I knew from OSRUI with 215 other NFTYites. Chills ran up my spine as the President asked if “NFTY was in the house” and was greeted by our enthusiastic cheers. I met so many fantastic people from all 19 regions of NFTY, reconnected with old friends, and had one of the most memorable experiences in my entire life. But what I will truly take away from this event are those initial words from Rabbi Yoffie: “The youth are the CURRENT leaders of this movement.” I can say that those nine words will come to shape NFTY, the URJ, and all of Judaism in the decades to come.
I cannot wait to see the day when one of those 220 teens who attended the NFTY Leadership Assembly stands in front of a crowd at the 92nd URJ Biennial as the President of the United States and re-echoes the words President Obama spoke this past weekend: “Young people are leading the way!”