By Lathan Lev, NFTY-NAR Member and BNTY Religious & Cultural Vice President
The following piece is an address given by Lathan to his congregation at a recent Youth Group family service.
Shabbat Shalom. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Lathan Lev, and I am the Religious and Cultural Vice President of the temple youth group BNTY. Todah Rabah to everyone in BNTY especially our song leaders Jacob Derwin, and Sabrina Chasen, they have worked so hard and they are rock stars. Also I want to thank Emily Besthoff and Erin Kratina our youth group advisors for working with everyone including me. To everyone in BNTY, this was a crazy year for all of us, I’m glad we went through it together. Thank you for continuing to give me a reason to be out on Monday nights and miss How I Met Your Mother.
When I was young I was given helpful advice. If you want people to remember a speech always start by telling a story.
I was at school one morning and a fellow student said something I hear on a daily basis… “What’s NaFTY NAIR???” He was reading my bracelet the one I wear every day, since I got it at a Kallah. I tell him NFTY NAR is a youth organization I am a part of. I cannot fully explain it to him because NFTY is something you have to experience.
I have recently been quoted for saying “Mom and Dad, I want to go on an adventure!” This past February with fellow BNTY member Adam Cohen, I represented our temple at NFTY Convention, where over 860 Jewish teens shared their love for Judaism.
Upon arrival I instantly started talking with fellow NFTYites. Throughout the week, I met people from Texas, Washington, California, and Missouri…; I basically worked my way across the lower 48 and Canada within the first two days. My name tag was the ultimate pick-up line, “WOW Lathan, it’s like Nathan with an “L” right? That is so cool!”
Throughout the weekend we went to different workshops and learned how to be Jewish teens in this ever changing world. We spent most of our time inside the hotel. In addition to workshops we attended services, eating meals, and attending a Dan Nichols and a Josh Nelson Concert.
The offsite trip involved lunch at the beach. It was amazing to just experience the beautiful area we were in. We walked in the sand and just enjoyed life! It was then everyone realized that this was NFTY Convention in LA!!
The offsite workshop I attended involved Jewish Art. We went to an art gallery and met Jewish artists and discussed the differences of Jewish art. The gallery was filled with photography, sculptures, and drawings inspired by different aspects and interpretations of Judaism.
That night NFTY took over Universal Studios. During our back-lot tour, who else but a bunch of Jewish teens would sing Mi-Chamocha as they crossed the water where Jaws was located? And of course it was the only night our food did not come from the hotel. It was ironic to find that when the park was filled with Jews, the longest line was at Panda Express.
One of the most remarkable phenomena was when Adam, myself and others attended a t’filah in which we took different prayers and wrote new ways to experience the service. The Mi Chamocha you heard tonight was the song my group wrote. As the guitars were passed from person to person I took a minute to look around. Having never played before, I strummed along to Wonder Wall and watched a group of teens who were able to leave their personal troubles behind. They didn’t care what the rest of the world thought, they were still singing at the top of their lungs. THAT’S WHY NFTY IS SPECIAL! This is why I have missed so many other events to be at Kallahs and now NFTY Convention. It is living proof that Judaism has places to go, and that it will go places. Most importantly, it proves the way this service tonight does, that the future of the Reform movement is in capable hands.
One year ago, I never would have thought I would be giving a speech like this, nor would I think that some of my closest friends live on the other side of the country. NFTY changed my life, it continues to do so every day, and it will continue to influence me the rest of my life.
NFTY is the chance to find yourself, and find your ambition. It’s opening up to this one big opportunity in life! You have the ability to take once in a lifetime chances, with complete disregard for those who doubt you; because it’s worth taking those chances. I did, and as soon as I was shouting the NFTY cheer at the top of my lungs with the others who took this chance with me, I found myself, and my 862 new friends had our adventure!