NFTY Leadership – Rising to the Challenge

December 20, 2021Lynne Butner

From the inception of NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has been helping to support Jewish life for teens in the Reform Movement. From local synagogue youth programs to regional and North American NFTY programming, WRJ’s YES Fund has helped NFTY sustain its efforts and continue to grow.

Over the past two years, as we’ve faced the challenges brought on by the pandemic, NFTY has evolved – let go of some beloved traditions, returned to old approaches, and created new strategies. With the support of WRJ and the generosity of individuals dedicated to teen engagement, we continue to support our teen leaders in guiding their communities. It’s amazing to watch them rise to the challenges, and with the support of caring adults, they are helping to define and establish what NFTY will look like this year and beyond. We have been continually impressed with what our teen leaders have been able to accomplish! They have created engaging virtual programming and continued the business of their regions while navigating the creation of new initiatives. Now they are starting to partner together in creating a return to in-person programming.

In September 2021, NFTY launched NFTYx, welcoming our Reform congregations to once again be an instrumental part of creating experiences for Jewish teens. This initiative was designed to support NFTY and the Union for Reform Judaism's overall mission of building strong, welcoming, inspired communities that make our world more whole, just, compassionate, and joyful. NFTYx brings the spirit of NFTY and teen-powered engagement to local communities through synagogue run experiences which are open to a full NFTY region, sub-regions, or specific cities.

NFTYx experiences are organized by passionate URJ synagogue partners, alumni, and teen leaders who seek to bring teens from multiple Reform congregations together in community. Organizers agree to abide by our NFTY B'rit Kehilah (code of conduct), uphold NFTY’s 13 Principles, and follow our health and safety standards. NFTY and the URJ provide resources and publicity while acting as “Network Weavers” who connect the different opportunities together and convene to support program leaders.

Despite the challenges we continue to face because of COVID, our teen leaders are optimistic and resilient. In recent meetings of the President and Programming Vice-President’s Network, leaders expressed their excitement for their upcoming NFTYx programs including recent Hanukkah celebrations, Leadership Training workshops, gatherings in the park, and more. The energy and enthusiasm that the teen leaders bring to their work is palpable, and we have heard continuously how grateful they are to have this continued community and opportunity to grow and learn with their peers. Landon, a member from NFTY’s Southern California Region (NFTY SOCAL), expressed that he didn’t know how badly he needed in-person programming until he was back at a live event for the first time.  The room comes to life when our participants can once again join, and you can truly feel the energy exuding from each of them. NFTYx is bringing participants together in a way that they haven’t been able to experience for over a year, and we are so grateful to be able to give all NFTY teens the opportunity to reconnect and strengthen the communities they have built since becoming a part of NFTY.

Thanks to the support from WRJ, our NFTY Area Managers continue to provide ongoing support and training for teen leadership. Their guidance has been instrumental for the teens who have created programming for their peers virtually and in-person, training them to be leaders now and for the Reform movement after high school. As you know, NFTY is helping to shape the Reform leaders of tomorrow, and the foundation being laid by NFTYx is proving to motivate our young people to continue with the skills they’re acquiring. We hear from our teen leaders and NFTYx participants often about the impact that this programming has on them. Lilah, a member of NFTY Southern Region (NFTY-SO), shared that when participants at a recent event told her they learned something new and overall participation excelled, she “knew she had created a fulfilling experience for others and that it was something to be proud of.” She described her first big leadership experience as: “a great success that motivated her to pursue more opportunities,” and we know this is only the beginning of the successes our young leaders will continue to accomplish.

Other items to highlight, made possible by WRJ are:

    • Director of NFTY Engagement, Lynne Butner, trained 17 NFTY alumni volunteers who will serve as NFTY L’dor Vador coaches through the rest of this year. They have already started to work with the regional boards and so far, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. 
    • NFTY staff is working with teen leadership to respond to the needs they see in their NFTY community, including addressing multiple articles about the harm of hook-up culture in Jewish youth spaces. With support from our teen leaders, NFTY hired an outside consultant to provide training to teens about recognizing and preventing teen-to-teen sexual harassment. 
    • We have created a google classroom for resources to NFTYx programs, teen leaders in congregations around North America, and current regional leaders.

NFTY continues to adapt, grow, and change while keeping our teen’s voices and leadership as a priority.  We are incredibly grateful to have Women of Reform Judaism continue to support the important work of training the youth leaders of today and tomorrow and helping us ride the changes of our new reality.

Lynne has been empowering Jewish teens for over 20 years to be leaders in their communities, agents for change, and to develop strong Jewish identities. She believes that having a strong, supportive Jewish community during formative high school years sets teens up to be engaged Jewish adults.

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