By Rabbi Benjamin David, senior rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, NJ
Every two years, the teens of our movement rejoice in anticipation of the coming NFTY Convention. It is Hanukkah and Purim rolled into one, the Super Bowl and your birthday colliding at top speed, an all-you-can-eat buffet boasting nothing but your favorite foods.
No matter where it is held, what the theme is, or what the schedule might look like, all of us recognize how much does not change from one convention to the next: an opportunity to connect with young people who are at once so similar to you and are living Jewish lives that are entirely their own, an opportunity to expand your sense of Jewish practice, an opportunity to bask in the teachings of our youth advisors and clergy, an opportunity to see your teen existence as more than SAT scores and college applications, more than AP History courses and driving tests, but rather as a life’s moment impossibly defined, against all odds, by inclusion, by love, and by Torah.
We at Adath Emanu-El believe in the NFTY Convention. We believe in its lasting value, just as we believe in the lasting value of URJ Camps and the array of programs our congregation and our movement offers young people. We believe in the NFTY Convention’s power to continue to shape our youngest leaders as they grow in character and confidence. And we do more than say we believe in it. Every member of our youth group’s executive board is automatically paid for in full. Every member of the general board automatically receives half-off the tuition. Youth group members at large automatically receive quarter-off tuition. This money is budgeted and is not need-based. Additional scholarship funds exist for those who request it.
The generosity of the congregation in this regard has a two-fold effect on our teenagers, I believe. Just as Moses is both humbled and empowered in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, our teens inevitably come away both with greater feelings of humility and with very real feelings of empowerment. They see that to be part of a true congregational family is to provide for one another in ways that are genuine and meaningful. As part of a kehilah kedoshah, we give and we receive. It is a gesture that teaches some of the best of Jewish values: generosity, modesty, gratitude, and continuity. The teenagers return standing taller.
I am incredibly proud of the nearly dozen young people from Adath Emanu-El who will soon spend a long weekend in Los Angeles, squinting into the glow of a radiant and living Reform Judaism. They will come back to their people, like Moses, more ready to lead us, more ready to face the years ahead, and more ready to live a Judaism of substance and of spirit.
Rabbi Benjamin David is the senior rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, NJ. He is married to Lisa David, who is associate director of camping for the URJ. They are the parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel. Rabbi David is also the co-founder of Running Rabbis, a non-profit initiative that seeks to engage clergy of all denominations in acts of tikkun olam.