Last October, nearly 70 teens from across the country came together for the first time in two and a half years. The URJ Teen Leadership Collaborative (The Collab) took place at URJ’s Camp OSRUI- created and run by teen leaders to empower and teach other teens the art of community organizing. The weekend program served as the beginning of a new chapter in NFTY and for the whole Reform Youth Movement. This event could not have happened without the generous support of the WRJ YES Fund and its philanthropy.
Before The Collab took place, a group of teens gathered to plan the event and programming. The Collab outreach was not just through NFTY, but through URJ camps and those who participated in RAC fellowships. It was a wonderful way for teens to grow their leadership skills and lead a North American event with guidance from the Youth Organizing Team.
“Planning for The Collab transformed my leadership skills and the natural comfort I feel in holding leadership positions. Coming into planning meetings, I was unsure of my place on the team and doubted my own legitimacy as a leader. However, in the months leading up to The Collab, I was able to take on more and more roles, and I felt confident in my abilities for the first time.” Frogby Sachs, Collab Participant.
During The Collab, NFTY youth learned about 1:1 meetings, storytelling, house meetings, and much more. Teens were able to connect while learning how to build up the Reform Jewish Youth Movement, including spending time with NFTY North American Board members and the leadership of the URJ. It was inspiring to see the teenagers step up, learn, and grow regardless of their position in NFTY leadership. In this new era of NFTY, we are redefining what it means to be in Reform youth leadership.
The Collab was the starting point for developing a new iteration of NFTY leadership. Using a community organizing model, URJ is focusing not just on top-down leadership but also on building relationships in all directions. At The Collab, teens learned specific community organizing skills for everyday use and to teach others, expanding engagement and deepening teens’ relationships in NFTY.
This event inspired teens to become more active in their NFTY region and step into leadership positions. At The Collab, each person was asked to commit to three 1:1 conversations and hold a house meeting after the weekend. This is an opportunity to expand directly on what was learned and ensure the momentum and excitement felt during the weekend continues. We must continue the momentum, and our partnership with WRJ, to keep our Movement growing and strong.
“Watching as teens left programming and had impromptu Board meetings for their regions was like a sign of relief and a burst of energy at the same time. Seeing other teens get excited about being leaders in NFTY allowed me to take a step back and witness the Movement’s new growth. Since the Collab, our efforts have led to vital action across North America. Teens have been restarting youth groups, making new partnerships with their synagogues, and joining in on regional leadership. As a Movement, we have taken a step forward, but this is just the beginning, and I hope that I will leave the Movement stronger than when I joined it.” -Ariel Eisen, Collab Participant.
We are so excited about the direction NFTY and the Reform Jewish Youth Movement is headed. The NFTY North American Board has opened cohorts, an expanded take on the networks that used to be established based on youth group board positions. These cohorts are based on themes and skills and do not require a board position to attend. Cohort topics include Engagement & Inclusion, Activism, Religion & Culture, Development: Fundraising, Financing, & Growth, and Leadership. We are actively finding ways to involve as many people as possible and move away from a model that values titles and positions over nimble action and change. It is inspiring to see teens sign up for leadership opportunities. We have weathered the pandemic and plan to come back stronger than ever, and it would not have been possible without YES Funding from WRJ.