By Philip Kenner, NFTY New York Area Region Communications Vice President
I am a New Yorker. I like hot dogs, I am always late, I am loud, and although I don’t like to admit it, I’m a little pushy. I don’t live in the Big Apple, but I do live in New Rochelle, a city about 20 to 30 minutes from the Big Apple. Both New York City and New Rochelle are about an hour and a half drive from Warwick, NY, the home of the URJ’s Kutz camp. So, while most NFTY teens took a plane or train to get to Kutz for Mechina 2013, an event built by and for the NFTY General Board, I took a car. While driving through the scenic up-state roads, my mom turned to me and asked me a question.
“So, what are you going to do at this event?”
I was completely unable to answer her question, mostly because I had absolutely no clue. Every NFTY event I had been to before Mechina was either a weekend or day event in my own region or NFTY Convention in LA. I had never been to an event solely based on leadership. I simply had to answer,
“Well, I don’t really know. Last year’s board really liked it, but I’m a little nervous.”
My mom chuckled, “Well, what is so different about this event?”
I explained to her that never before had I gone to an event in which every single participant was on a regional board. My entire NFTY career was spent either admiring my regional board or actually being on regional board myself. Mechina is such an interesting event because, besides the gavel order on each board and the five fellow teens on North American Board, everyone is on an even playing field. There is hardly anyone to look up to, and there is hardly anyone looking up to you. This makes for an interesting event. One hundred and thirty nine teens accustomed to being leaders in their regions are stuffed into bunks and program rooms and expected to snap right back into the “participant” mindset. This transition is not particularly difficult, but for many, it is a shocking dip in cold water. Regional Board members are vividly reminded of what it felt like to go to an event they had no part in planning. They are also reminded of what it feels like to be channeled from one program to another solely to participate, not to lead.
However, this old “participant” feeling is given a new twist through network time, day trips, and thought provoking programs and electives. Network time, the allotted hours in which you spend time with those who share your board position from other NFTY regions, was amazing. I am the NFTY New York Area Region Communications Vice President, so I was paired with all the other NFTY Communications Vice Presidents, also known as CVPs. We talked the day away with conversations of Facebook, blogs, promotional videos, Twitter, emails, newsletters, texting polls, and even Vine. Spending a day with my fellow CVPs in Manhattan was such a wonderful learning experience, mostly because every single person in my network, no matter how similar we were to each other, had something unique to bring and share.
So many fellow CVPs gave me advice and stimulated conversations that gave me an array of teachings to ponder and analyze. The CVP from the NFTY Mid-Atlantic Region, Amy Weinstock, told me, “It’s easy to get someone to come to his or her first event. It’s harder to get them to come to the second.” The Secretary, a position almost identical to CVP and therefore in the same network, from the NFTY Southern California Region, Frankie Golick, shared how her region was known for their promotional videos and how they go about crafting them. The CVP from the NFTY Texas-Oklahoma Region, Rebecca Galor, and I had an in-depth conversation about crafting “hashtags,” the devices on Twitter which allow viewers to track popular topics. The CVP from the NFTY South West Region, Ian Mobbs, the CVP from the NFTY North West Region, Isaac Diamond, and I discussed my region’s cabinet and committee system and how we all can work together to make sure participants in each of our respectful regions can receive meaningful leadership roles. Every single one of us had new ideas and concepts to enhance our work with the growing world of Communications. It was the unexpected diversity in a group of supposedly similar leaders that lead to a unique and captivating learning experience.
At another point during Mechina, all the regional board members from every region were asked to participate in a program entitled “Behind Closed Doors.” This program was a brain-teasing improvisational exercise that tested our ethics, emotions, and logic. Faculty members and North American Board members were placed around camp, and regional board members moved throughout Kutz from room to room, dealing with the situations that the actors performed for them.
My involvement in this program was especially unique. At each station, one person must deal with the situation presented as the rest of the group watches, and when my group chose me, I was nervous. I led the group into the Kutz dance studio to see Marlee Ribnick, the North American Membership and Communications Vice President, a peer whom I look up to immensely, sitting on a small stool and playing the role of a sobbing participant. I went up to her side, squatted on the floor next to her, and put my hand on her back.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, “Are you okay?”
“No! I’m not okay,” she screamed back. As I attempted to find out what was bothering her, I was attacked with sharped tongue comments: “I hate NFTY, and I hate you,” and my personal favorite, “NFTY sucks!”
The subtle irony of this situation was clear to none in the room but me; this was practically dialogue taken from my mouth on the Friday night of my first NFTY event. I could understand what this character was going through. I once said things like “NFTY sucks” because I was excluded at my first event as a freshman, resulting in a similar reaction to Marlee’s. I was scared and afraid of making new friends, so I manifested that fear into hatred and an unwillingness to open myself up to new ideas and communities. Obviously, that mentality quickly changed as I learned how amazing NFTY is and how wonderful NFTY people could be. So, in short, I felt as though I was a senior regional board member talking to my freshman self.
What do I wish someone said to me?
This question was racing through my head as I attempted to calm Marlee. I told her she could take a break if she needed to, and when I asked if she wanted me to get the advisor, she barked, “NO.” I quickly chuckled, “Well, then I won’t get you one!” This made her smile. That made me smile. Once the exercise was over and my group moved on to next scenario, I couldn’t stop thinking of Marlee’s crying. If there was one thing I took away from Mechina, it was Marlee’s performance, her subsequent interaction with me, and what it taught me. I learned to never underestimate the power of recognition. I recognized Marlee and her worries, something I wish someone had done with me. I learned to never underestimate the impact of a simple, “Hey, are you okay?” or a, “Hey, how are you doing?” “Behind Closed Doors” is a program I will not soon forget, and the lessons it taught me will stay with me throughout my time on regional board.
I talked for the entire duration of the drive home about the five days I spent at Kutz, and this blog post could be ten times longer; However, I would feel bad giving the entire thing away for next year’s General Board! The other portions of the event – Asefah, the Nezter program, Installations, the Ruach Bonanza, and even the time I was invited to speak to the whole General Board during our nightly recap – were also amazing and incredibly memorable. The Ruach Bonanaza, especially, was so remarkable because of how much fun it was. NFTY-PAR did a “punny” skit to the music of “My Heart Will Go On,” and NFTY-SW did a choreographed dance to “It’s Raining Tacos.” My own region, NAR, did a mash-up of our regional cheer, “Empire State of Mind,” and even the classic “Ice Ice Baby.” Who’d have thought Vanilla Ice would find his way to 46 Bowen Road?
At the end of the five days, I felt like a new board member. I came into Mechina hungry for knowledge and guidance, and I left Mechina feeling satisfied and excited to begin my NFTY year. I cannot wait to bring the lessons I learned to my region, and I cannot wait to start my work as a regional board member.