By Shira Hoffer. Shira is a 9th grade member of MANTY at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester, NH.
This fall, the Northeast Teen Collective’s first annual Northeast Leadership Summit at URJ Camp Eisner inspired over 250 Jewish teens to create projects and initiatives about issues important to them. The Northeast Teen Collective is an ambitious initiative to increase the number of teens participating in Jewish life throughout New York, New Jersey, and New England. The Collective empowers highly engaged teens to use their individual passions as inspiration to create meaningful Jewish experiences that will capture the interest of their less involved friends. Through Machon Summer Leadership Institute at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, the Dana Gershon and Rabbi Jonah Pesner Northeast Leadership Summit, and ongoing Pop-up and Co-op Events—all powered by the Union for Reform Judaism in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jim Joseph Foundation—the Collective inspires more young Jewish teens to embrace Jewish life and community as a path to meaning, purpose, and joy.
As a participant at the first-ever Northeast Leadership Summit, I was inspired by the realness of what we did. Not only did I learn new skills, like marketing, but I also helped to create real initiatives and projects that are already impacting so many (see #SharkTankMuseum for more details). Even more, the volunteer staff of more than 50 educators included some real giants in the Jewish world and as well as some personal role models, such as Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Rabbi Everett Gendler. Just to be in the same room with them and to get a chance to hear them speak was incredibly empowering! The Summit had four main learning themes: Gender and Sexuality, Israel, Mussar and Mindfulness, and Social Justice. I was inspired by one of the workshops about Israel to work with my friends to create a new initiative focused on Israel education and advocacy called Yallah Israel.
Growing up in Hebrew School, I remember talking about Israel – the land, the people, and our connection to it. We talked about Israel as a Jewish state, why that should matter to us, and what it means to love this far away homeland. My experience at the Summit challenged me to continue and deepen that conversation.
Today, in NFTY-NE, I hear people proclaim their love for the Jewish homeland, shouting, “I LOVE Israel!” amidst a crowd of NFTY-ites in IDF shirts. Although there are some NFTYites who are very involved and well educated on the topic of Israel, many don’t have much experience from Israel apart from what we hear on the news, and since news is biased, it’s hard to get a real sense about Israel just from that. I’ve found that, in NFTY, we are almost expected to love and support Israel, but not really taught why, or how, or that one can love Israel and disagree with some of her government’s decisions. In addition, statistics show that our generation is the least supportive generation of Israel thus far.
It is this reality that inspired me to create Yallah Israel, a club for NFTY-NE participants to talk about Israel, share their ideas, educate themselves, and address their relationship with the Holy Land. The Yallah Israel club is meant to be a safe space where people feel one-hundred percent comfortable expressing any and all of their ideas about Israel.
Israel can be a taboo subject among Jewish teens, especially when someone has something negative to say, but the premise of this club is to create an environment for learning, dialogue, and honest discussion about Israel. Yallah is open to everyone – no matter if you’ve written ten essays on Israel or if you have no experience at all. The goal of Yallah Israel is for everyone interested in engaging in learning, talking, and debating all things Israel to be able to do so in a comfortable way.
Club meetings will take place at club meetings will take place at regional events to start, with the hope of expanding meetings to in between events. Each our agenda will allow for learning, discussion, debate, and reflection. Participants will gain a richer knowledge of Israel, find friends with common beliefs, defend their arguments, and be challenged to be open to others point of view. Yallah Israel’s first meeting will be at NFTY-NE’s December Institute! Please join us as we engage in our first meeting and learning topic, The Western Wall: What, Where, How, and Why.