Shari Berkowitz, NFTY North American Vice President ’74-75, has been reigniting the spark for decades. An alumna of LIFTY, Shari spent as much time as possible at URJ Kutz Camp as a camper, staff member and visitor. “I was very lucky to have lived and attended school in upstate New York, so all I ever needed to do was to get in the car, and within an hour or two, I’d be ‘home’ [at Kutz],” she said. “This magical time and place changed my life for the better, gave me lifelong friends and a strong Jewish identity.” After transformative years in NFTY and the URJ Camp system, she’s made a life in the Jewish youth movement as well, and continues lasting friendships years later.”
“I’ve always maintained a position as a religious school teacher, I was a youth advisor for many years and I attended a lot of conclaves and kallahs at Kutz, Barrington, etc.” Shari said. She has stayed involved in the movement because it was so important to her when she was a youth herself. “It made me who I am, and gave me such a strong foundation to grow on and a perspective of how to be involved in the Jewish community. It gives [young people] a foundation to be well-rounded and involved in the movement and to continue supporting the Jewish community and Israel.”
With her time in NFTY and at Kutz being such transformative parts of her life, the relationships she made during those years have remained rock solid. She and her friends from NFTY and Kutz have made it point to get together at least once a year, if not more often, to share memories. “I am still in close contact with many of these people that have shared life-altering revelations, a sense of purpose with me and now with the world.”
Though distance may separate them now, with friends who have scattered to far corners of the continent, their connection to NFTY keeps them coming together years later. Last year, Shari and her friends participated in the annual Reignite the Spark campaign to join together with friends old and new to celebrate Hanukkah together. They met up in New York and attended a concert featuring the band Aztec Two Step, which began with a group of NFTYites in the 70’s. “Afterward, we went through scrapbooks and saw pictures of people we knew back then. It was like we were all together. Some people were jealous that we were actually together, so maybe our group will continue to grow. Thanks to Facebook, I can connect with people I knew from camp who now are in Toronto, New Hampshire—all over the place, even Israel.”
This year, Shari and her friends will be Reigniting the Spark by celebrating together at the URJ Youth Alumni and Friends concert at Temple Emanu-El in New York City.