By Micah Friedman, NFTY Religious and Cultural Vice President
“It’s only been three days and we’re already such good friends!” I’ve heard NFTYites make this excited claim at the end of almost every NFTY event I’ve been to for the past five years and Netzer Veida Olamit is no different. Here at Veida, I’ve met 25 other young Jewish adults from 15 different countries and I already feel comfortable both living in a small apartment with them in Jerusalem and discussing some of our fundamental beliefs and questions regarding topics like Reform Judaism and Zionism. Friends with whom we can contemplate profound questions and laugh are one the most powerful pieces of NFTY and Veida has shown me that these relationships are not limited by the countries in which we live.
Connecting with other young, Reform Jews from around the world is a powerful experience and one of the reasons why NFTY has begun the process of strengthening our connection with Netzer Olami. As NFTYites have learned more about Netzer Olami and what Reform Jewish youth movements look like around the world this past year, there are questions that have arisen regarding the ideology of Netzer. Personally, I have also struggled with some of the values highlighted in the official Netzer Olami Ideology, so one of my goals entering this Veida was to spend time engaging with the Ideology. The past two days we have spent significant time focusing on the Netzer Ideology and the role of an ideology in a youth movement. Yesterday, we voted unanimously to reevaluate the Ideology of Netzer Olami based upon the values and principles of each of the Sniffim over the next year in order to make sure that our formal ideology aligns more clearly with the values that are held in high regard by members of Netzer Olami in every Snif (branch) around the world.
Today, as we searched for the answers to some of our questions regarding our youth movement and its ideology, we found more questions than answers. Why does a youth movement need fundamental principles upon which we agree? How should these principles and values manifest themselves within our movement? Do we, as members of a youth movement, need to agree with the principles of the movement entirely? As I pondered these questions, my thoughts turned towards our Snif, NFTY. At Mifgash Hafifah (an annual transitional meeting with the current and incoming North American Board) in March last year, we realized that even the NFTY North American Board was not familiar with the 13 principles of NFTY. These principles supposedly lay the foundation upon which the entirety of NFTY is built, yet the highest elected leaders of NFTY were unable to name all 13 principles without using the NFTY website.
In both NFTY and Netzer, often times the most veteran leadership is not well-versed in the fundamental ideologies of our organizations. What should we learn from this lesson? Perhaps, we don’t need to spend our time focusing on constructing elaborate lists of values in order to define our movements. Can NFTY be defined by a carefully crafted list of words? Defining NFTY is a tremendous challenge that we face constantly as we try to describe this incredible movement about which we all feel so strongly. Despite the immensity of this challenge, we need to try.
Perhaps, NFTY is defined by the tears in our eyes when we say goodbye to our friends at the end of an event, the excited gasps and screams that can be heard whenever a bus rolls up to a synagogue or camp as we drop our bags and run to see our friends, or by moments when we begin to see the world differently after a thought provoking program. Maybe, NFTY is defined by that indescribable feeling of community during Havdallah, Shira or friendship circle. Are these the moments, above all else, the essence of NFTY and of Netzer Olami?
What do you think is the most important way to define our movement?