By Evan Traylor, NFTY President
With the NFTY year in full swing, I was extremely excited to visit NFTY-GER for their New Member Kallah this past weekend. From the moment that the participants arrived at beautiful URJ Camp Harlem in Kunkletown, PA to the moment the buses slowly departed, the NFTYites of Garden Empire Region created an amazing kehillah kedosha – a holy community.
While the name of the event is New Member Kallah, every Reform Jewish teen in the region is invited and encouraged to attend this first full event of the year. The theme of this year’s new Member Kallah was “Everyday Heroes”. The programming (including the dance) focused around each individual’s ability and power to change the world around them through acts of loving kindness.
With a weekend full of engaging programming and services, incredible community building, and lots and lots of NFTY-GER traditions, here are some of the highlights from NFTY-GER New Member Kallah:
In their programs, participants learned and practiced skills that would help them become an everyday hero. Understanding the power of making someone smile, learning to embrace the worst while celebrating the best experiences in our lives, and expanding our comfort zones, are just a few of the many things that participants took away from the weekend. The final program of the event focused around creating opportunities to help people in each individual’s community; each participant created their own “pay it forward” chart, making a plan to help three people in their lives, in hopes that these people will be inspired “pay it forward” to 3 others themselves. Every GER NFTYite put these new skills to use during the weekend as well, making sure that everyone (especially the newest members of the region) was included in every activity and felt comfortable in the NFTY setting. This was especially noticeable during song session on Saturday afternoon, in which every single GER NFTYite was engaged in singing and dancing around the Chadar Ochel of Camp Harlam, including the almost 50 enthusiastic new members. It was truly amazing to witness how all of these teens came from so many different Jewish backgrounds, URJ congregations and camps, to unite as one region. One Kehilla Kedosha.
Like in many regions, the final morning of a NFTY-GER regional event brings about a lot of traditions. As a fundraiser for Urban Mitzvah Corps, one of NFTY’s summer experiences focused around social action in the New Jersey area, NFTYites can pay for “grams” – little shout outs to anyone and everyone that past UMC participants read aloud for everyone to hear at breakfast. After hearing about 20 minutes of funny moments from the weekend and sincere thank you notes, we all moved into friendship circle. At friendship circle in NFTY-GER it is traditional for all of the seniors to take off their left shoe and make a pile in the middle of the circle, symbolizing that they will always have a foot left in NFTY even after they graduate. Also, 2 GER NFTYites are selected to make sure that the pile of shoes remains intact throughout the entire friendship circle. It is also a tradition for the President of NFTY-GER to wear a passed down JFTY shirt (Jersey Federation of Temple Youth) and recite in order the names of the past NFTY-GER regional presidents. After all of these traditions and friendship circle songs, NFTY-GER culminates this time with a rousing NFTY cheer, followed by their own NFTY-GER cheer sung to the tune of the Tigger Song: “The wonderful thing about GERites, is GERites are wonderful things. From New York to New Jersey, and everywhere in between.”
A huge shout-out to the NFTY-GER Regional Board and their Youth Programs Manager, Pam Schuller for all of their hard work and leadership in NFTY-GER. Also, shout-out to all of the NFTY-GER chairs who did so much throughout the event to make the weekend a huge success. Thank you to all of my new NFTY-GER friends for making me feel welcome in your region. NFTY-GER truly is a region comprised of Everyday Heroes!
Evan Traylor is a Freshman at the University of Kansas. He is currently studying Political Science, with a minor in Jewish Studies. Evan hails from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and is a proud alumni of NFTY-TOR. Stay up to date with all thing NFTY President by following Evan on Twitter and Facebook.