By Dean Kroker, NFTY-PAR Fundraising Vice President
It is difficult to describe a weekend like this past one. When a record-breaking one hundred sixty five teens come together from all around the Pennsylvania Area Region to give back to our community, it leaves everyone with a feeling of extreme satisfaction, happiness, and meaning.
NFTY-PAR’s annual Winter Institute or WINSTY takes place each year during the famous Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. We gather at a local congregation to experience something different from our normal Camp Harlam-hosted events. This WINSTY seemed particularly special for me.
The end of Shabbat was near; I was helping to lead the region in a meaningful Havdalah service at the local Jewish Community Center, in a very small, chlorine scented room in the middle of the building. As we began to sing, a chain of participants entered this tiny, congested area and looped into the infamous spiral circle formation. As each participant moved closer and closer in, we began to sing the words of Olam Chesed Yibaneh, The World Is Built On Kindness. Once seated, the tune ended and Havdalah continued.
Lo Yisa Goi, Birchot Havdallah, Eliyahu Hanavi…though not a vastly different Havdalah in terms of song, the feeling during and after this service was different than previous PAR events. I felt engulfed in prayer. I felt spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to each and every individual in the room. When looking through the twisted candle’s Havdalah flame at participants around the room, I saw the lips of all participants singing. I felt a sense of extreme joy within our close-knit community.
As we gathered for prayer earlier that morning, the feeling permeated among all individuals in the room. Our community came together for a typical NFTY-style service. Just like the evening Havdalah service consisted of our regular tunes, so did the Shabbat morning service. But unknowingly, the room sang with respectful ruach (spirit) and helped create an atmosphere leaving some participants close to tears.
Some services are meaningful because of their uniqueness, such as an art-focused service or a gender-separate service. But when a group of ten songleaders help to lead a regular Shabbat service, finding a sense of fulfillment as much as Saturday’s is extremely sacred.
After dinner Friday eve, Erev Shabbat, our region made our way up the large stairwell to the sanctuary. Before this service, our region discussed the upcoming service. Unlike a regular Friday evening with a congregation, this service was interfaith. And while I’m sure interfaith services were not unique to all participants, the next two and a half hours, for some, might have been the most meaningful aspect of the entire weekend.
It is very difficult to do justice to this service with just words, for its zealous attributes are better seen in person, but I will elaborate on some aspects. As the service began, a large group of Jewish and black Baptist people surrounded the room. We were engaged in songs of praise as this joint choir made their way to their seats. The service included many remarkable attributes: there were two synagogues, one Baptist Church which Martin Luther King Jr. attended, a sermon from the Pastor and one from the Rabbi, and music from both religions. Our like views were celebrated as we welcomed Shabbat together.
If your temple has an interfaith service in the future, I encourage you and your entire family, friends, and youth group to attend. The spiritual meaning and sense of joy I experienced throughout both the service and the weekend was extremely memorable.
NFTY is an amazing opportunity. Teens planned and executed this weekend, felt fellowship with other teens and were able to pray with Jews and non-Jews. All of this made WINSTY an exceptional weekend.