NFTY President’s Address to URJ Board

Good morning.  Thank you to Steve Sacks, Rabbi Jacobs and all of you for inviting me to speak this morning.  It is my honor to address the board on behalf of NFTY.  My name is Evan Traylor; I am currently a freshman at the University of Kansas, studying Political Science and Jewish Studies, and I am honored to be serving as the President of NFTY for the 2012-2013 year.

Since the NFTY year began this past June, there have been numerous celebrations throughout the NFTY community. So far, we have seen hundreds of Temple Youth Group events and dozens of regional NFTY events.  We continue be proud of our ongoing work in providing engaging opportunities for Reform Jewish teens to learn about Judaism, work towards justice in the world, enhance leadership values, and create lasting friendships. Our partnership with Campaign for Youth Engagement has also helped us to expand the great things we are already doing.

Here are some specific celebrations from this NFTY year so far:

  1. We continue to instill the value of Generational Leadership throughout our movement. Hundreds of Temple Youth Group Board members attended regional Leadership Training Institutes led by Regional Board members.  The URJ Kutz Camp trained close to 180 teens this summer during the Leadership Academy – with more than 60 teens participating in the TYG and Regional Board Leadership tracks.
  2. NFTY held its first in a series of song leading training institutes. Thanks to a generous sponsorship by Dr. Arthur and Marilyn Lieber, NFTY was able to host the first cohort of 30 teens who spent the last weekend in August in an intensive songleader training program.  The next institute is scheduled for January in Seattle, Washington, with two more interested communities wanting to host next year.
  3. Each year, the general leadership of NFTY chooses an Action Theme – a topic that the entire movement takes action on.  This year, the theme is “R’Fuat Hanefesh – Caring for the Soul: NFTY Addresses Mental Health”.  All 19 regions have devoted themselves to educating participants and others on supporting individuals who struggle with mental health issues as well as combating the unfortunate stigmas that are associated with mental illness. NFTYites are turning this education into action – many of our regions have made Public Service Announcements to dispel the myths that surround mental health issues.  Ask your local TYG about this – we want to bring this project as wide as possible.
  4. NFTY has also spread its influence over social media, working to connect individual NFTYites to the North American level of our movement. With 4,558 “Likes” on our Facebook page, 2,749 followers on Twitter, and a consistent flow of articles on the NFTY Blog, NFTY hopes to continue this growth over social media

NFTY is actively pursuing many partnerships within the Reform Jewish community. This past October, we partnered with Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, the Religious Action Center, and the American Jewish Archives to offer the first in a series of Teen Study Weekends. During this event, teens from all over North America explored the difference between social justice and social action and their obligation to repairing the world.  HUC is hosting another Kallah in January, as well as in March.

Another growing partnership that we are proud of is the Coalition for Jewish Teens.  NFTY is actively partnering with BBYO, NCSY, USY and Young Judaea in order to create proactive collaboration.  This partnership also allowed us to have one of my favorite days at camp this summer -  In late July, we invited BBYO’s International Kallah (about 300 participants) to join us at the URJ Kutz Camp for a joint Maccabiah (color war) event. More than 500 young Jewish teens came together in fun and spirit to engage in some healthy competition, show some amazing ruach, and get soaking wet in the thunderstorms.  This event made me feel so proud to be a part of both the NFTY and greater Jewish teens communities.

In just 75 days, hundreds of Reform Jewish teens will descend upon Los Angeles for NFTY Convention 2013. While this is the 30th anniversary of the modern NFTY Convention, there are many other reasons to celebrate this incredible event. The program team for NFTY Convention is working hard to strengthen the partnership between teens and adults by ensuring that a teen and an adult co-write and co-led every workshop. This NFTY Convention also promises enormous opportunities for NFTYites to expand their leadership skills and abilities through a number of different outlets. NFTYites will lead and participate in t’filah and musical opportunities, become inspired by phenomenal speakers, and challenge themselves by entering the NFTY Competitions. Following the theme of the event, Make Your Move, NFTYites will explore the skills needed to expand their influence and clout to become leaders in their communities.

I would now like to take some time and thank the WRJ for supporting NFTY Convention 2013 by providing funding for some of our incredible concerts, and for your generous donation towards Scholarships for Youth Impacted by Hurricane Sandy, ensuring that financial barriers will not keep displaced teens from their involvement in Reform Jewish events. And congratulations on nearly 100 years of great success!

On behalf of the more than7,000 NFTYites across the United States and Canada – thank you. To each and every one of you, thank you for all of the work that you do every day to provide guidance and partnership for this generation of Reform Jewish teens. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has planned for NFTY and the URJ!

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