by Marlee Ribnick, NFTY Membership and Communications Vice President
When I started my journey as a NFTY participant over four years ago, I never would have thought that I’d be traveling so far (a flight and a ferry ride) to attend a NFTY event. Coming from NFTY-Northern myself, my weekend in Northwest proved to be an eye-opening experience that thrust me into an entirely new NFTY culture.
NFTY-NW’s Fall Kallah was held at Camp Burton on Vashon Island off the coast of Seattle, Washington. Though it was rainy and muddy outside, the cabins were great, and the camp leant itself to the close-knit atmosphere of the event. As we waited for the participants to arrive, Regional President Rachel Kahn and I surveyed the main program space that over 100 NFTYites would be occupying for the weekend. It was a fairly large sized white room with chairs lining the walls, and white tile floors that would soon be covered in pine needles tracked in from outdoors. As I stood in the center of the room, I found myself growing increasingly excited and anxious for everyone’s arrival. Though the NFTY world is not new for me, NFTY-NW was. I was so thrilled and honored to represent NFTY North America in an entirely new region. I was nervously anticipating this new experience, but mostly I was overwhelmed with excitement.
Even though some of the busses came late, everyone jumped right into mixers like Duck Duck Dog and Group Story Writing. Initially I was admittedly a little overwhelmed. The feeling vaguely reminded me of the way my very first NFTY event felt. I didn’t know many people, and it seemed like everyone knew one another. One thing I have learned is that in any new social situation, taking the first step to engage is always the hardest. After that, it’s generally smooth sailing. After I took that first leap, NFTY-NW really took me in and welcomed me. The participants seemed to know each other well, so I was astounded by how keen they were to invite me into their circle. Even more so than I imagined, it felt like I was starting NFTY all over again. I loved every moment of it. During meals, TYG President and URJ Kutz Camp alum Jackie Wetchler always thought to save me a place to sit. She introduced me to a plethora of incredible individuals, and made it a point to update me on Northwest culture. During the Los Angeles NFTY Convention themed talent show on Saturday evening, there was always someone present who didn’t think twice about explaining an inside joke to me that I wouldn’t have understood otherwise, like clog dancing and the choreographed dances that URJ Camp Kalsman participants know by heart. It left a very meaningful impression of the region on me. No one was willing to let me sink because I was new. Everyone did their part to make sure I was integrated and comfortable as a guest, and as a NFTYite. I am confident that they would do the same for any new NFTY member.
On Sunday morning, I helped group-lead a program where each High School class was split up in different locations. I was with the Junior’s, and we did an activity in which a question would be posed in the form of a “fill in the blank” statement. When a question was posed about our favorite parts of the event, it was incredible to hear what parts people identified as being their favorite. One very common theme was that the NW Juniors were impacted by the mental illness awareness program written by Regional Social Action Vice President Bella Merritt. I was so inspired by how passionate these participants became about helping to erase the stigmas associated with mental illnesses. A major piece of the Social Action program was creating a resource to aid NFTYites in being sensitive to mental illness within our community. Northwest was clearly determined to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, not just me. This realization has really resonated with me, and has kept me smiling at the thought of Northwest ever since.
Marlee Ribnick is the NFTY Membership and Communcations Vice President. She is a currently a Freshman at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). Marlee hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota and was an active member of her region NFTY Northern. Stay up to date with Marlee Twitter and on Facebook!