Why I Became a NFTY Freak
Debbie Friedman, celebrated Jewish songwriter and singer, wrote the words, “The youth shall see visions.” For decades, this song has had a profound impact on Jewish youth of America, instilling value and hope among a generation in search of themselves.
In October of my junior year, I “saw my vision” and embarked on a journey that will shape me for the rest of my life.
It was a cool California Friday, and I had packed up my duffel bag to head off to NFTY Southern California’s Leadership Training Institute. NFTY, the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth, has become a huge influence on my life as a teenager, and as a Jew.
NFTY has been around for more than half a century and consists of 19 regions around North America, hosting monthly weekend retreats for Jewish high school students. Each weekend encompasses social action, prayer and socializing. NFTY’s primary job is to confirm Jewish identity in teenagers while providing them with tools for their future as Jews — knowledge of prayer and customs, traditional songs, and lifelong friends on the same journey.
I had always had a strong Jewish identity. I am an assistant teacher at religious school at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and have spent 10 summers at Camp Alonim. I know all the prayers like the back of my hand and feel a religious connection to my faith. But when I got to NFTY, I finally felt like I could fully realize my Jewish identity.
NFTY SoCal was an instantly inviting environment. The second I stepped out of the car for that weekend Leadership Institute, I entered the most seminal chapter of my life. Instantaneously I was greeted with big smiles and warm hugs, and I knew that I was going to belong. From the first Shabbat service, I knew my life was about to be enriched with something it had never seen before. After the event concluded on Sunday, I became a devout NFTY freak, counting down the days until the next NFTY event and constantly talking with my new friends.
NFTY inspires youth to change the world. No, NFTY shows the youth that it is up to them to change it. Social action programming, leadership training and intensive lessons in Judaism have provided youth with the framework to lead. NFTY is constantly inspiring all and assuring them that they do mean something to this world, not something miniscule, but something with a massive impact and great importance.
One of Judaism’s highest held values is tikkun olam, repairing the world. In NFTY, we learn about the hardships and challenges that face our earth, and we use our knowledge to educate others on these issues — such as the genocide in Sudan, the kidnapped children in Uganda and modern-day slavery in America and the rest of the world. We have also participated in donating money to relief organizations and contributed endless hours of making bracelets and blankets for recently freed slaves in Los Angeles.
If it were not for NFTY, I would not even know that there was a genocide and that there are still slaves today.
Many people ask me: “Why are you so Jewish? Why are you so religious?” At times I hesitate to answer because my response may shock others, yet most of the time I reply: “I stand up for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust just because they were Jewish. I have a Jewish identity because I am fortunate enough to be able to have one and not be afraid.”
NFTY has taught me to appreciate life so much more, and to be proud to be Jewish because so many millions of Jews could not be proud of whom they were without fatal consequences. A poem written by Chad Rochkind, a NFTY alumnus, reads, “To be a NFTYite is to know that the words, ‘And the youth shall see visions’ are more than just a song.”
I now know that these words are truly more than lyrics, they are a way of life that NFTY inspires, and they have shaped my path as a Jew, as a leader, and as a human being.
“Who knew?” If the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hasits way, that simple question will become as well-known a shorthandfor the Federation as “Got milk?” is for the California milk industryand “Just do it” is for Nike. The phrase will be the centerpiece ofthe organization’s new corporate ad campaign, which launches thismonth in this newspaper, on billboards and at corner bus shelters. Inthis case, the product is not milk or shoes; it is the Federationitself, as well as its United Jewish Fund (UJF).
The problem that the Los Angeles Federation and federations aroundthe country face, explained Brandy French, creative director in theFederation’s marketing and communications department, is that “nomatter how much we advertise, people have no idea what the Federationis and does.” In fact, when they’re asked, people often say, “Theyhelp Israel,” she explained. They also tend to get confused about thedifference between the Federation and the UJF; the UJF is theFederation’s fund-raising arm, helping to support 17 localbeneficiaries, two international agencies and six Federationdepartments.
In response to this challenge, the marketing and communicationsstaff, under the guidance of Director Joyce Sand and with the inputof a year-old committee chaired by Robert Gach, decided to launch acorporate ad campaign — with the Jewish-sounding (it helps to add alittle Yiddish inflection and a shrug) “Who knew?” as the answer to ahost of questions that explain the good works the Federationsupports.
“We’re saving the bubbies. 70,000 elderly Russian Jews. Who knew?”says one ad that pictures an elderly woman leaning on a cane. “Lastyear, our family violence program received 4,600 calls for help. Whoknew?” reads another that shows a young woman with a big bruise onone arm, clutching a teddy bear, her face buried on her knees.
Other ads will talk about services provided by SOVA, Bet TzedekLegal Services, Jewish Vocational Service, the Bureau of JewishEducation, Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services, and many more. Fewpeople know that these concerns receive financial help from theFederation. In fact, they are usually unaware that about 60 percentof donor dollars are spent locally, Gach said during a round-tablediscussion last week. “That’s the biggest ‘Who knew?'” French said.
The campaign is a distinct departure from past ones, partlybecause Los Angeles is “a different marketplace,” Gach said. Youngergivers — the ones the Federation most wants to reach — are lessmoved to donate to Jewish causes by Holocaust images or worries aboutIsrael’s survival. Instead, many want facts and figures about how themoney they give helps solve human problems.
The hope is that the new campaign will become a landmark for fundraising and run for years to come, Sand said. The marketing staffdoesn’t even mind if “Who knew?” becomes the punch line to jokes onlate-night talk shows — just as long as people remember it. With asmall budget (five figures), they’ll need all the help they can get.
Professionals of all ages and walks of life mingle at JewishFederation Networking Night at the Hollywood Palladium.
Federation ’98: 2
Challa-Palooza. Shmooz-a-Palooza. And, now, Biz-a-Palooza,otherwise known as Jewish Federation Networking Night. It will takeplace for the third time, at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday, Jan.20. As many as 800 people, mostly Jewish professionals of all agesand walks of life, are expected to attend the event and to do someschmoozing with potential business contacts. That’s twice the numberthat showed up for the first Networking Night in late 1996.
Co-founders and co-chairs Alan Shuman and Fred Denitz areecstatic. The growth demonstrates the need for this type of eventwithin the Jewish community, said Denitz, a vice president and salesofficer with Bank of America and longtime friend of businessman andPalladium owner/ president Shuman. “We both saw the need for thedifferent divisions, regions, groups, agencies within the Federationto come together and network in a fun and not fund-raisingenvironment,” Denitz said.
Said Shuman: “There are so many Jewish people in Los Angeles thatdon’t know other Jewish businesspeople. I felt this would give themthe opportunity to meet people throughout every industry and to beable to do business with them.”
Networking Night brings together people from about 18 divisions ofthe Federation, including CPA’s and bankers, attorneys and fashiondesigners. They’re single, married, older, younger, Orthodox, Reformand everything in between. Non-Jews are also welcome, Denitz said.
The evening includes casino games and entertainment, includingmagicians and caricaturists. It will begin with cocktails at 6 p.m.,followed by a buffet dinner (under strict rabbinic supervision) at 7p.m., and raffle prizes at 10 p.m.
Guests will have opportunities to swap business cards and storiesin smaller groups of up to 30 people with assigned moderators.
Sponsors include Alder, Green & Hasson; Bank of America; SanliPastore and Hill Valuators; and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter &Hampton. Support is also being provided by Beshert and U.S. Kosher.
The Hollywood Palladium is located at 6215 Sunset Blvd. inHollywood. Secure parking is available for a $5 fee. Reservations aresuggested. To make them, call (213) 761-8210. The cost of the eveningevent is $50 per person, $60 at the door, if available. RuthStroud, Staff Writer
The Day We All Came Together
By John R. Fishel
What do you get when you combine 3,000 Jews, 1,500 chairs, 500active volunteers, a 60-piece orchestra, a 30-voice choir and amenorah on Christmas Day? The answer? An extraordinarily successfulopening to the Los Angeles celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary.
Dawn came early on Dec. 25. By the time I arrived at the WestsidePavilion in West Los Angeles, scores of young adults in jeans andT-shirts were schlepping boxes of bagels, cartons of toys, and urnsof coffee. Tikkun L.A. had arrived again.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC)and Access, the Jewish Federation’s young-adult program, the fourthannual Tikkun L.A. attracted 500 enthusiastic volunteers. (Organizershad to turn away another 300 would-be volunteers in the week before;by design, there were limited slots.)
Among the 27 locations citywide served by the volunteers was YouthFair Chance, a city-sponsored social-service program located in alow-rise downtown. The joy that filled the large multipurpose roomwas palpable, as small children engaged in craft activities, ateholiday cookies, and sang along to the boom box someone broughtalong. Volunteers helped the youngsters color pictures and make smallart pieces out of Popsicle sticks. One volunteer donned a costume inimitation of Lambchop, the children’s puppet, and walked around,creating smiles.
Such hands-on volunteerism that attracts twenty- andthirtysomethings is what will help create the leadership fortomorrow’s Jewish community. Obviously, a single program does not aleader make. Yet combine it with a year-round program of education,lectures and a healthy dose of social and social-action activities,and we are on the way.
If our community believes in tomorrow, then the support by thisFederation of Access or Hillel are the best investment we can make.It only takes financial resources to complement the human energy thatis out there.
While the Access volunteers were sharing their much-needed humanenergy throughout the city, another major Federation activity wasabout to get underway. More than 1,000 chairs were set up, a pianowas tuned, a riser and microphones were put in place at the WestsidePavilion, as preparations for the opening of the official “LosAngeles Celebrates Israel’s 50th Anniversary” began to take shape.Notwithstanding a few unforeseen crises, in
cluding the delivery ofthousands of still-frozen Chanukah latkes and a sudden overflowcrowd, there was anticipation in the air. By 2 p.m., a full hourbefore the event’s scheduled start, every seat was taken.
No doubt, the droves were lured by the powerful combination of theLos Angeles Jewish Symphony, the Valley Beth Shalom Choir and thepremière of an original orchestral piece based on the life ofthe late Yitzhak Rabin. Together with volunteerism and the commitmentto tikkun olam, another attribute of our marvelous Los Angeles Jewishcommunity was on display — its great basin of talented Jewishartists.
The large audience certainly reflected the diverse and complex LosAngeles Jewish community. Words of Hebrew, Farsi, Yiddish and Russianwere heard in the predominately American-born crowd. An elderly womanargued with a security guard over why she couldn’t sit in a”reserved” seat and rubbed shoulders with a 27-year-old Accessvolunteer returning from the Youth Fair Chance visit. A small IranianJewish child almost got her hand smashed when the timpani playerstruck a note on his drum while the little one rocked to the melodyof the music. With nary a chair in sight, people pushed and shoved,but manifested their joy of celebrating Chanukah together in recitingthe prayers while the lights of the menorah were kindled.
When the voices of more than 3,000 joined in singing the”Hatikvah,” it was easy to forget the communal disunity that we haveexperienced, and perhaps easier to forget that we often complainabout Los Angeles Jewry being overly assimilated, underaffiliated anddisconnected
Certainly, this Dec. 25, none of these communal generalizationswas apparent. Each of us could feel genuinely good about the Jewishpeople. On Dec. 25, the Jewish people joyously lived, our youngadults did their good works, we commemorated the triumph of ourpeople thousands of years ago, and we celebrated our bond to Israel.The Jewish Federation was, thanks to you, there to help tie it alltogether.
John R. Fishel is the executive vice president of the JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles.