By Rabbi Fred Greene, Rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah of Roswell, Georgia
This post was originally posted on Rabbi Greene’s Blog akeyah – where are you?
My Youth Advisors (Adam and Bobbee Griff) were right…
Hosting a Regional NFTY event wouldn’t just be great for our teens, but it would have the power to transform our youth programs even further towards becoming a Youth Community.
We had 324 Jewish teens in our facility this past weekend. That in and of itself was a miracle. But more than sheer numbers, what was so powerful was my ability to witness some amazing things.
We had 45 kids from our synagogue alone opt in to try to have an encounter with a Youth Community. For many, this was their first event; for others, they see themselves as seasoned veterans at these retreats. But our newcomers and those from all around the NFTY-SAR Region (NFTY is the North American Federation of Temple Youth – SAR is the Southern Area Region of NFTY), our teens embraced what Ron Wolfston calls the “Spirituality of Welcoming,” reaching out and connecting people to one another. s
They focused on teaching about different kinds of families, our commitments towards inclusion and our respect for diversity. The educational programming was thoughtful and our teens walked away with the perspective of how every family is precious and has integrity.
Our prayer experiences were tremendous. I know I like the traditional tones of our service, but I was exhilarated and inspired by their JOY. There were no spectators in that sanctuary. Our kids PRAYED — with songs that brought them closer to one another and (whether they know it or not…) to God!
But here is the thing. Our youth advisors challenged us to take on almost all of the housing responsibilities ourselves. Most host congregations reach out to their neighboring synagogues for some help. Why not? Who couldn’t use some extra help? The challenge was made and we needed 70 host families. 60 came from our synagogue. That means, more congregants were able to witness some of these peak moments like I did. They saw a ruach-filled sanctuary come to a quiet, soulful moment as the students sang Sh’ma — holding on to each word for an entire breath. These hosts saw our NFTYites laugh and play, learn and teach. It wasn’t just our youth group board that had responsibilities…it was an array of teens from 8th through 12th grades who played a part. They and their parents were so invested in the success of this kallah.
These hosts — not all of whom even have kids in high school or NFTY! — were able to see how lives could be changed by a meaningful, compelling, fun Jewish experience. So I don’t just have a lot of kids going to Jewish events… I have a bunch of teens who want to build a community and parents who are no longer bystanders. They witnessed how great it is for their kids to find other Jewish teens with similar Jewish needs — for community, for prayer, for justice, and for hope.
So here is the unapologetic, unabashed pitch… help us. Temple Beth Tikvah has three ways to help us support our teens. Consider:
- an act of tzedakah to our Annual Campaign to support everything that is happening in the synagogue — there is no corner that is not touched by these gifts.
- an act of tzedakah to our Camp/Israel Scholarship Fund — help us get more kids to summer programs in Israel, Jewish summer camps and learning programs.
- an act of tzedakah to our Youth Group Fund that provides scholarships for our teens to go to NFTY events when there is financial need or to help fund special programs for our teens.
You can select any of these funds by going to:http://www.bethtikvah.com/make-donation
Make a gift in honor of your teen, of our event, of our Youth Advisors, of our Youth Committee volunteers. The Jewish way of expressing our gratitude is by paying it forward. I am grateful for all who invest in our youth.
Bobbee and Adam — thank you. To our youth group Board and our Kallah Chairpeople — may you all go from strength to strength. To our Youth Committee and parent volunteers — we couldn’t make these things happen without you. To all of our staff, partners, stakeholders, leaders, schleppers, cooks, bottlewashers… it really does take a village.