WRJ's YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund granted $10,000 to support the 2019 NFTY Convention held in Dallas, Texas in January 2019. Empowering the next generation of Reform Jewish youth (l'dor vador) has been a core value of WRJ since helping to found NFTY in 1929.
NFTY Convention for me is like a proverbial “shot in the arm.” As the URJ’s lay leader for youth, I get to work closely with the URJ Youth professional team on engaging young Reform Jews and developing today’s and tomorrow’s young leaders. Seeing them in action at NFTY Convention fills me with energy, hope, and optimism. Being in the room during plenary sessions, even simply walking the halls and taking in the sights and sounds of our teens at work, leaves no question in my mind that our future is in the most capable of hands. And it was inspiring as well to spend time at the Youth Summit with both seasoned and new congregational youth professionals who are dedicating their professional lives to engaging the youth of our movement. Their work is vital.
During this particular NFTY convention, I wore multiple “hats” and kvelled a lot. Wearing my URJ hat, I kvelled as our teens filled the hotel and convention center, loudly and proudly worshipping, learning, celebrating together, and using this valuable time to harness their individual and collective passions to advance their priorities. There is much we can learn from them.
As WRJ Board member, I kvelled as WRJ President Susan Bass addressed the convention and talked about youth engagement as a WRJ priority. It was our foremothers who first recognized the importance of youth engagement, and it was that vision that led to the creation of NFTY. They were prescient indeed.
And I kvelled as a mother. My involvement with URJ youth began with my children. Both my son and daughter spent their childhood summers at URJ Camp Coleman. A musician, my daughter learned to song lead at Kutz Camp and went on to be a NFTY regional song leader during college working at both Camp Coleman and 6 Points Sports Academy NC as a song leader. The profound impact of Reform youth experiences on my two very different children and their friends motivated me to invest myself in this work; I would like to see every Reform child, teen, and young adult have these meaningful experiences.
And at NFTY Convention I was in over-kvell. This time my daughter Emily and I were colleagues, both of us there because we deeply believe in the magic of NFTY to change lives and the world. A college senior studying music education, Emily participated as a member of the music team. Seeing her song lead on the stage during Shabbat services and song session, lead Havdalah, and facilitate workshops for the teen song leaders made my heart sing. Perhaps most rewarding of all was when I saw her step aside and invite a NFTY song leader to approach the mic to make sure that we could all hear the voice of the teens who traveled to Convention with their guitars, to hone skills, and lead friends in song.
Experiencing NFTY Convention as a mother underscored for me why our work is so important; seeing live the manifestation of how Emily’s NFTY experiences instilled in her a deep desire to create for today’s teens the kind of impactful moments she experienced, which still connect her closely to Judaism and continue to shape the person she is today, was poignant. And to have with my daughter the kind of “de-brief” what-did-we-learn-today talks I share with other lay leaders to inform our work was powerful. This experience has become yet one more reason I am so very grateful to the URJ for its vision to instill in young people a sense of joy, compassion, and pride in being Jewish while nurturing their innate desire to make a difference in the world. The world needs it
Shelley Nicely- Groff is a WRJ Executive Committee member-at-large and serves as the Youth liaison to the URJ Board.