NFTY: Inclusion Through Prayer

The following is an open letter to NFTY’s general board, as well as those interested in learning more about inclusion through services. 

Shalom NFTY!

This past weekend 137 Mechina participants were involved in Saturday morning services that incorporated a heightened sense of inclusion and modeled inclusive practices throughout.

NFTY prayerWe had:

  • Jamie Steinberg, mother of a NFTY GER regional board member, model inclusion via sign language.
  • A power point projected with alternative readings, illustrations, quotes, and guiding material to enhance visual capabilities.
  • Transitions in between prayers that encouraged each congregant to rise or pray only if they felt comfortable or were able to do so.
  • Teen song leaders help in the prayer experience.
  • North American board members greet congregants as they entered and exited to impart a welcoming mood–we like to call it a sort of “audacious hospitality.”
  • An introduction to services and a D’var Torah focused on inclusion in the Torah and inclusion in our movement.

Alongside this inclusive spiritual experience, there was a Behind Closed Doors simulation program that revolved around addressing inclusion within our NFTY regions.

We, as a movement, have made huge advances when it comes to inclusion…but GenBo, we need your help to make it continent-wide. Each of the 19 regions still has room to improve, and we challenge you make your region accessible, welcoming, and full of kef v’ruach to ultimately be inclusive.

Below are excerpts taken from the introduction to services, the d’var T­orah, and Zak Kadish’s (NFTY OV PVP) Mi Shebeirach foreword about his brother, Ethan:

“Inclusion is comfort and accessibility for everyone. Inclusion is building a new experience for each member and WITH each member. Inclusion is a new foundation for each NFTY experience, ensuring that everyone has a place.” – Olivia Kessler

“What does it mean to rise up like this? It means to rise and learn respectful terminology in describing every type of ability and identity, rise and hold those around you to the highest of expectations. It means to rise and abolish hate speech and derogatory comments, rise and talk to the kid alone in the corner that you always kick yourself for not talking to. It means rise because we are all made up of the same elements and rise because you should; because it’s the right thing to do. Rise because it’s not that hard to just be nice. Inclusion can be found in many different scenarios. Fit it in to your life, you’ll be happier and people will notice you. And as NFTY, so too shall we rise, together, Jewish, proud, and inclusive of everyone who wants to be in our community.” – Max Spivak

Zak stated, “When once we could not even see Ethan open his eyes, we now see emotions—love, happiness, sadness, and laughter—emanating from them. When once Ethan could do nothing but cry, he now laughs, and the sounds that he makes give us hope that he will one day regain his voice. He is attracted to colors, especially shades of yellow, and explodes with joy to every song from all of his favorite Disney movies.”

For more help with instituting inclusive practices in your region, do not hesitate to contact your regional staff or North American Board for programs, materials, service outlines, or other ideas. If you would like to have the powerpoint from the service, feel free to contact Olivia at nftysavp@urj.org.

Much love and we can’t wait to see what happens in the coming year!

 

Olivia Kessler, NFTY Social Action Vice President

Max Spivak, NFTY Religious and Cultural Vice President

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