By SaraAnn Stanway, NFTY-GER member
When a NFTYite is asked, “Why do you do this? Why do you love this?” their answers will invariably include the following: bonds of friendship are formed instantly and permanently, and the experience of surrounding oneself with people who not only share a similarity, but the very trait that usually sets us apart from the crowd – our Judaism – is breathtaking. This is perhaps best exemplified in the “friendship circle” – across the country, from GERites to proud members of So-Cal, NFTY participants join together in a massive circle, wrap their arms around each other, and take part in what is essentially a form of havdallah; in this case, the separation is not between Shabbat and the rest of the week, but Kallot and the rest of high school. The concluding song of friendship circle is “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which is understandably a tearjerker. Newfound friends embrace, phone numbers are swapped, and we say our goodbyes. Except, what do you say when your bags are packed, you’re ready to go, and NFTY Convention is your journey’s destination? It sure isn’t a tearful farewell! Like its participants, NFTY is constantly changing, not only in itself, but in the way its participants view things; for example, that mournful song transformed into an anthem of excitement.
This weekend, still only beginning, is a transformation for each and every one of us fortunate enough to attend the 2013 Convention. For some, these changes are small:, building the confidence to board a plane alone for the first time, trying out a new melody in t’fillah, or taking a different opinion on a subject of debate. For others, the changes are monumental, because of the absolutely incredible environment created by NFTY Convention. Just this morning, Talia Leman, who as a mere child founded an award-winning charity, delivered an inspiring speech about the power of anyone and a little luck, and its effects were immediate; even before she concluded, my best friend and I were excitedly whispering about some changes we hope to effect to promote the youth engagement in Reform Judaism and are looking forward to taking action to make them a reality. Furthermore, being surrounded by these countless examples of creativity, success, and ambition represented by the numerous Regional Boards and North American Board has solidified my own personal intentions of pursuing a leadership role in NFTY-GER in the coming elections, as I am sure it has for many others as well. It’s impossible not to take on an attitude of optimism and hope here, because it is impossible to feel at all apprehensive when surrounded by over 800 people who believe in you. We haven’t yet been in Los Angeles for more than two days, yet this experience has already transformed my peers and me. And if this is what it’s like when the event is just getting started, I can only imagine what else is in store for us in the coming days.