Life after NFTY can take alumni in a variety of directions. Last year, two NFTY-MAR alumnae began work with Repair the World, a national nonprofit committed to engaging Jewish millennials in meaningful service work. Diana Goldsmith, NFTY-MAR ’11, is serving as a Program Associate in Baltimore, and Zoe Braunstein, NFTY-MAR ’12, is serving as a Food Justice Fellow in Philadelphia. We caught up with them to learn about the impact on NFTY in their decision to step into Jewish communal work.
What We Learned From NFTY
Growing up in URJ-affiliated synagogues, Judaism was often tied to social action. Through class projects and mitzvah days, volunteerism and Jewish service learning were practiced hand-in-hand. And certainly, NFTY incorporated social action into programming – from fundraising for TheVent to incorporating current events at regional kallahs, NFTY taught the value of caring for our communities. In this way, the URJ and NFTY have provided a strong backbone for our work with Repair the World. Repair is a national nonprofit that enables people to transform their neighborhoods, cities, and lives through meaningful service experiences, rooted in Jewish values, history, and heritage.
Zoe: NFTY taught me how to lead
During my time in MAR, I served on the Religious and Cultural subcommittee, which largely involved delivering D’var Torah sermons to the region. On a very practical level this taught me public speaking skills, useful in my work with Repair the World, and quite frankly, useful in adulthood.
NFTY also taught me how to write a program, specifically, a reproducible program. While I certainly despised program-writing during my time in NFTY, this skill has been incredibly useful through college and into my work with Repair the World. Because the Repair the World fellowship is one year long, there is a potential opportunity for institutional memory to be lost with fellow turnover. Passing down this collective consciousness is an important leadership task. Effective and clear program-writing was a ‘must’ in NFTY, is a ‘must’ with Repair the World.
The process of writing and participating in NFTY programs introduced me to Jewish texts that are useful to pull from in a social justice context. When creating service learning materials with Repair, I often find myself thinking back to texts and teachings used in NFTY programming. I would not be where I am today without NFTY.
Diana: NFTY made Judaism relevant and accessible for me
For so many Jewish young adults (and teens) there is an aversion to “traditional” Judaism – maybe they were forced to go to services, or they have “Hebrew School Horror Stories” (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?). It’s right after B’nai Mitzvah that most teens drop off. Even I questioned my Jewish identity as a teen: Why was being Jewish important to me? What did being Jewish teach me? How was Judaism relevant to my life?
Luckily, I found a home in NFTY, where I learned that there was so much more to observing Judaism that wasn’t just sitting in services. It was experiencing Havdallah, learning how ancient Jewish texts were still relevant to my everyday life. It was chatting during kallah, discovering how Jewish values influenced my everyday decisions. It was connecting to other Jews my age on a spiritual and cultural level and recognizing that Judaism was so accessible.
Someone asked me when I first started working for Repair the World, why I wanted to do this work. I explained that I wanted to show other young adults that being Jewish didn’t have to be all about reading prayers that they didn’t know the meaning of, it can be practiced however works best for you. Repair the World aims to bring this kind of culture to every city that it works in. My response was heavily influenced by my time in NFTY, and I use what I learned in my work at Repair the World every day.
Gonna Live and Die N-F-T-Y
Our experiences in NFTY taught us how to unite service and Judaism through volunteerism and contextual learning which has been invaluable in our work with Repair the World. NFTY continues to be an important part of our personal and professional lives, and we find NFTY everywhere! In fact, the lines between NFTY and Repair the World were blurred when we attended Repair the World Fellow Orientation at Capital Camps, where NFTY MAR held many of its kallahs. Each day the campers in the dining hall would sing the Birkat Hamazon after meals – complete with added claps and hand gestures. And of course, we sang right along. NFTY is truly with us in so many ways.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Fellowship, or to apply for the 2017-2018 cohort, please visit fellows.werepair.org or reach out to Program Manager, Sam Kuttner at email@example.com.