After Saturday night’s Havdalah service at NC21, NFTY’s 2021 convention, Dan Nichols, a famous Jewish rock musician, performed a digital concert while NFTYites waved the glow sticks they received in their merch packages. They were celebrating community and music together.
NFTY is a Reform Jewish community where high school students connect with other Jewish teens locally through regional chapters and also nationally.
“It was so exciting to gather together — albeit virtually — for NFTY’s convention in early February because it showed that even when we can’t be together physically, our community is still strong,” said Josh Rosenblum, vice president of NFTY’s national board for programming. “NFTY’s core values of connection, social justice, learning, Judaism and teen leadership came through in such a beautiful way, and I’m thrilled to continue this work to keep NFTY strong.”
NFTY’s national convention was held online Feb. 5-7, 2021, and teens from 19 different regions all over North America got together virtually to meet new friends, hang out with old ones and learn about Reform Judaism. The goal and motto of NC21 was “connect, learn, serve.”
Sunday was a day of service, and NFTYites participated in a variety of social action-based programs, including seminars hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, Planned Parenthood, Arizona Jews for Justice and several others. A new virtual platform called Gatherly.io allowed teens to interact in virtual breakout rooms and created a space where participants could meet people they wouldn’t have talked to otherwise.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Jewish teens from across the country have been able to make experiences online meaningful.
“As a current leader in NFTY Southwest, I had the experience to connect with teens from across North America while also introducing my friends outside of Southwest to my friends within the region that I call home,” said Riley Miner, NFTY’s Southwest membership vice president and a high school senior from El Paso, Texas. “Connecting with new and old friends in a virtual space felt comfortable, normal, and even special.”
Southwest is a NFTY region that includes teens from: Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Nevada, El Paso and Utah.
Following the success of its national convention, NFTY Southwest’s Winter Kallah was also held online, Feb. 19-21, 2021.
Using the 1920s as a theme, participants talked about the hardships of that era and how the decade was similar to the present day. Participants also dressed up in 1920’s attire and had black-and-white Zoom backgrounds.
The programs, services and hangouts were put together by numerous teens across the Southwest region.
Friday night started off with a quick Shabbat candle lighting. Saturday included programs, hangouts, Big Fun and even Senior Ships — a Southwest tradition where seniors create and decorate mini sailboats that they would normally release in a kiddie pool while recounting favorite memories from their four-year experience in NFTY.
Even though there was no kiddie pool, it was still a meaningful experience when everyone said “Whoosh” digitally instead. Song leaders also led several song sessions and friendship circles.
“NFTY culminates in growth and connection with fellow Reform Jews,” said Sadie Goldman, a high school junior from Arizona. “It is truly a kehilah kedosha, a holy community where I can learn about myself and others, while spending time with my closest friends in the world.” JN
If you have a teen interested in joining NFTY Southwest, follow @NFTYSouthwest on Instagram to stay up-to-date.
Arianna Walker is a sophomore at Rancho Solano Preparatory School and a member of NFTY since seventh grade.