By April Basler / email@example.com
More than 1,000 teens are expected to attend the NFTY convention in Atlanta from Feb. 13 to 17. The 75-year-old North American Federation of Temple Youth, the Reform youth movement, holds the convention every other year but has never held it in Atlanta.
The convention opens with an intergenerational Shabbat service composed of music, worship and dancing. One of the main programs at the convention is about Israel and includes a plenary session that celebrates the connection NFTY members have with the progressive community in Israel. Teens at NFTY-EIE, a high school program in Israel, and a performance from Israel’s version of “The Voice” television show will connect with NFTY through a live video feed.
Other highlights include sightseeing in the Atlanta community at locations such as Emory University, the Georgia Capitol and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. NFTY will also hold a general board meeting to elect the 2015-16 NFTY North American board.
Other programming includes training sessions focusing on song leading, social justice advocacy and assistant teaching.
The Temple is presenting at several workshops for the NFTY and BBYO conventions, including two workshops on the history of the Midtown synagogue and the Atlanta Jewish community, with a focus on civil rights and the Temple bombing of 1958. Another workshop will discuss The Temple’s work to combat the human trafficking of minors.
The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) is involved in the NFTY and BBYO conventions and is a significant partner with USY. SOJOURN uses education, advocacy and outreach through a Jewish lens to promote understanding and acceptance of people across the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation. Robbie Medwed, the assistant director for SOJOURN, will present workshops at the NFTY convention about Judaic texts and homosexuality.
“We will look at all of the various texts from every angle, including strict biblical plus more modern interpretations and traditional interpretations,” he said.
He will also present a workshop on how youths can be allies to LGBT and will lead a session for NFTY staff on how to create a safe space in youth group chapters and accommodate all people to make everyone feel safe and welcome.
“It’s been fantastic working with all of the youth groups because they really are all committed to becoming open and welcoming places for Jews of all types,” Medwed said. “They really want to learn and do better to improve the world around them to make everyone feel safe and included.”
The weekend ends with the full-day celebration of NFTY’s 75th birthday.
The birthday bash includes recognition of F.L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta, whose students attend Camp Jenny, a program that provides inner-city kids with a summer camp experience Memorial Day weekend at Camp Coleman. Camp Jenny is a social action program for NFTY, and the teens serve as the camp counselors.
The convention concludes with a musical celebration with Rabbi Daniel Freelander and Cantor Jeff Klepper performing “Shalom Rav.”
Teens aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of the programming at NFTY’s convention. Under the theme “my self, my community, my world,” a concurrent youth summit will bring together nearly 200 adults — congregational leaders, community leaders and donors — who work with youth. The summit will strengthen the professionals’ networks, and the programming will explore the most pressing issues in Jewish youth engagement. The summit will include keynote speeches from the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Aaron Panken; programs where the professionals and teens interact; Shabbat worship by region; and learning sessions.
In addition to NFTY’s international office, locals who helped organize the convention including Rabbis Peter Berg of The Temple, Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah and Ron Segal of Temple Sinai, who are all on the rabbinic steering committee. Mark Silberman is the lay chairman of the stakeholders group.
Debbie Rabinovich, 18, of Charlotte is the NFTY North American president and is from Atlanta’s Southern Area Region (NFTY-SAR). She played a major role in the planning and execution of the NFTY convention since taking office last spring.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of the teen experience aspects of the convention, such as making sure that our programs and speakers and workshops are things that teens appreciate and relate to,” Rabinovich said. “Also, making sure that we have a convention that really fits the needs of teens who function in different ways. We want to make sure that their experience fits people with different learning styles.”
Rabbi Berg said it means a lot to have the convention in Atlanta.
“We are thrilled to have the convention here, and we believe Atlanta lends itself to some tremendous learning opportunities,” he said. “We are an exceptional Jewish community that takes pride in cooperation.”
Enjoy the Show
Full registration for the NFTY convention was $985 for teens, including the hotel, and $1,425 for adults at the convention hotel, the Marriott Marquis downtown. NFTY also offered a $725 option for adults without the hotel and a $735 option for local teens who slept at home. Also for Atlantans, the NFTY convention has a one-day registration for $175 for most days, although you can use that option only once; to attend more than one day, you must register for the whole convention. But you can experience much of the convention excitement from home through the live stream at www.nftyconvention.org/live, cable channel JLTV and the JLTV mobile app. The convention website will provide blog posts, photos, videos and social media highlights throughout the weekend. Follow the hashtag #NFTYCONVENTION for the convention and #NFTYYS for the youth summit.
Miss Vice President?
NFTY’s Southern Area Region has the current NFTY North American president, Debbie Rabinovich of Charlotte, and an Atlantan, Hailee Grey of Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb, was elected USY’s international president in December.
NFTY won’t repeat the trick of electing a Southern president this weekend, but one local girl could make good.
Jordy Frankel, 18, a senior at Sprayberry High School in East Cobb who is a member of Temple Sinai and tweets @jordofthejungl3, is running for NFTY membership vice president for 2015-16 in a crowded field of seven. Her letter of intent and candidate speech use the poetic metaphor of dandelions blowing in the wind.
You can check out her candidate video at vimeo.com/118190604.