By Tim Holdiness, NFTY-SO member and MONTY President
The thoughts going through my head in the weeks preceding Biennial were pretty typical for an excited NFTYite: “I can’t wait!” and “I’m so excited!” were all I could think. This would be a weekend of firsts – my first Biennial, my first flight, and my first time meeting anyone attending, as I was the only NFTYite from the Southern region attending.
I arrived at the San Diego International Airport excited for everything to come. I tentatively joined the group of NFTYites waiting to go by bus to the Hyatt Hotel and the rest of Biennial. Walking up to a group of Jewish teenagers I had never met, I felt incredibly awkward. Everyone was hugging and reuniting with old friends from Kutz Camp and Convention – I was alone. So I resorted to what seemed like the only option, get out my phone and pretend like I was busy. I quickly left my phone alone as someone came up and introduced themselves as Aaron. I was so relieved! I knew this guy. We had talked on Facebook a few days before Biennial.
As we arrived at the Hotel, we had a brief meeting and everyone there registered, got their name badges, put down their luggage, and proceeded to find somewhere to eat. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I introduced myself to a few people, and continued to do so until I found someone I could go eat with. I finally met Sarah F. and Katya G. I joined their group of friends and we all ate at a Hawaiian restaurant. I then became friends with Sam L. and Andrew R. through Sarah and Katya. I would end up staying in the same host home as Sam and become great friends with Andrew, Emily, and Katya. But I can’t forget Dayna S. who is for sure an original, Matthew R. #interruptingtheprimeminister, Fred T. who might of needed somewhat of a haircut, Naomi E. who never likes to eat her own food, Alex L. who always has an interesting view on everything, and Kenny L. who was also the only member of his region in attendance, which have become such amazing friends over the four days in San Diego, CA.
But I didn’t only meet friends. I also got the chance to pray with nearly five thousand Jews, which was an experience I’ll never forget. NFTYites never fail to bring ruach to prayer. During Shabbat Services on Friday night, while sitting with NFTY, the cantors began to sing Miriam’s song and all of NFTY stood up and began singing and clapping. Suddenly, I was taken away by the person sitting next to me to an open space in the prayer space. NFTYites had formed a huge circle and began dancing together. Soon, adults began to join in. Everyone was dancing and singing, all thoughts pushed aside. When the song ended, everyone casually walked back to their seats and the service continued. This was like nothing I’ve ever experienced! Thousands of people breaking into dance started by high school teens. Nobody was annoyed by it, they loved it! Everyone was up dancing and singing. As if this was normal; and for NFTY, this was normal.
For four days I met new people, attended learning sessions, and most of all prayed. URJ Biennial and all of the attendees have helped me become not only a better person, but a better Jew.