By Joy Nemerson, NFTY Social Action Vice-President
Everyone is from somewhere. Where we’re from helps to shape who we are, and who we become. In every NFTY name game, we mention, without fail, our own TYG. These individual youth groups are the building blocks of NFTY. I come from Congregation Mishkan Israel. Even though I thought I arrived at social action on my own, I’m not so sure I had a choice in the matter. I think I was led in this direction over 150 years of Mishkan Israel History. In 1858, my synagogue joined the international protest against the kidnapping and baptizing of Jewish children in Italy. During the Civil War, congregants volunteered at the local military hospital. In the 1870s, the temple stood up for interfaith activities and established the “no unfriendly words” policy. Rabbi Goldburg, vigorously opposed the Vietnam war and was arrested in Georgia for marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My current Rabbi, Rabbi Herbert Brokman, strongly believes in listening to every side of a story and hearing what others have to offer whether or not he agrees with it which it extremely admirable trait for a leader to have. So, I suppose social action is in my DNA. This laid the foundations for my journey in Judaism.
My first NFTY event was in December of 2008. NFTY Northeast region gathers twice a year at URJ Camp Eisner for our five daylong events called institutes. December Institute began with shouts and hugs and I, only knowing a few kids from my Temple Youth Group stuck to the corner. I was alone in a room packed with people and it was a scary feeling. As the first day ended and I made my way to my bunk I was intimidated. I cried in my bed that night on the phone with my mom begging her to pick me up, she told me to stick it out. Its funny how moms always know everything, that next day I was introduced to Zoe Summit and she became by first NFTY friend. Zoe welcomed me into her group and I am forever thankful for that. By the end of the event I was crying fir a totally different reason then I had before, I didn’t want to leave.
From that event on I have tried to be at every event I could. My junior year I had the opportunity to be a Prayer Coordinator. In NFTY Northeast the regional board picks ten juniors to lead services at Institutes in order to spread leadership thought the region. After months of planning my service finally arrived on a sunny Saturday morning in the end of august. The theme of my service was Winnie the Pooh and the lessons we can take from it. I not only got to construct a service with readings and tunes but I also got to give a D’var Torah in front of my entire region. That process of writing that D’var influenced my Judaism more then any other event in my life; as reform Jews we are able and even encouraged to make Torah relatable to our lives by making connections to pop culture, new books, current events and much more. Connecting Pooh Bear to the Torah may seem far-fetched to some people but with a true understanding for both connections are easily drawn.
In February of 2011 I received a phone call from Northeast president Ethan Wise. He told me I had been nominated to the slate of candidates for the 2011-2012 NFTY-NE Social Action Vice President and I, for the first time in my life, cried tears of joy. It was, and still is, one of the biggest honors I have ever received. Although I had my heart set on being Religious and Cultural Vice President I am so glad that that board saw my potential on the social action side of both NFTY and life. My regional board experience began at Newark airport where I met SAVP’s from various regions as we were preparing to depart on our trip to DC to spend time at the Religious Action Center to learn about the action theme for the year. It was the most motivating part of my regional board experience and really set into motion my initiatives for the year. Over the course of the year I ensured the presence of an action based program at every event and also made sure to have a mitzvah project as well. Social Action became a prevalent part of the Northeast region and having Avra Bossov, NFTY SAVP 2011-2012, at our December institute really brought those action initiatives to light.
Avra not only inspired my entire region in December but also inspired me throughout all of last year. She is a large part of why I decided to run for North American Board. She made such an impact from embracing the true spirit of last years action theme, to speaking on behalf of the Religious Action Center in front of 5,000 people at URJ Biennial, and by simply being one of the most passionate people I have ever encountered she is the definition of youth leadership to me. Life is about pushing to new heights and pursuing what your heart truly desires. NFTY is something that as enhanced my life in such an enormous way over the past four years that I am doing whatever I can to make certain that Jewish youth for generations to come can have just as amazing an experience as I did.
Being on North American Board is such certainly an accomplishment. Being the leader of a youth movement however we have to always always always remember where we are from. I began my Jewish journey at Congregation Mishkan Israel. Without my involvement and my families in involvement in that community I would most certainly not be who I am today. The strong presence of social action and justice within my synagogues history could be only be a coincidence… if so it is certainly a serendipitous one and a presence I hope to keep with my whole life.