Blog  Connections – A Reflection on December Institute by Shaina Morrel

Connections – A Reflection on December Institute by Shaina Morrel

A NFTY Northeast Institute is a very unique experience. These events are not only unique from the others that take place throughout each calendar year, but in addition to this, every participant has their own unique experience at each Institute. Shaina Morrel, one of our Overalls at December Institute, took the time to share her unique experience through this reflective piece of writing. As you’ll notice, this is written in NFTY Programming Format, to really show not only the experience that the event created, but in a sense, how the event itself was created. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Shaina Morrel
NFTY-NE December Institute 2017
Peulah #18 (Get it? Because Chai=Life)



  1. Explain to others (members of NFTY-NE or not) the impact that Institutes have on teens.
  2. Create a common understanding of the importance of NFTY, and Institutes specifically.
  3. Emphasize my inspiration, passion, happiness, and life changing experiences through NFTY.


  1. Readers will understand what it means to be personnel at a NFTY event, and how to be a leader in general.
  2. Readers will feel inspired and empowered about returning to NFTY events.
  3. Readers will better understand how my love for NFTY evolved.

Timed Procedure:

  1. How Did I Get Here? Wait, But Where Is Here?
  2. Being A Leader 101
  3. Programming…It’s Not As Easy As You Think
  4. Why Are NFTY Services Unlike All Other Services?
  5. Community, I Guess That’s Important
  7. What Now?


  1. URJ Eisner Camp


  1. An open mind, open heart, and open arms.
  2. Snow boots and warm socks.


  1. NFTY Staff (2 Staff)
  2. Regional Board (10 Seniors)
  3. Overalls (6 Seniors)
  4. Prayer Coordinators (10 Juniors)
  5. Experience Coordinators (4 Juniors)

Background Information:

Con·nec·tion (noun) a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.

Detailed Procedure:

1. How Did I Get Here? Wait, But Where Is Here?

Starting freshman year I pushed myself into NFTY, trying so hard to connect- but it didn’t quite work. I didn’t feel that spark or inspiration right away. And yet I came back again and again. Something pulled me back, knowing that I wasn’t fulfilled and needed to be. My experience at December Institute showed me why it was all worth it. At this event, NFTY felt like home.

2. Being A Leader 101

How to “personnel”: 1. Clown   2. Fishbowl   3. Duck

Confused? So was I. But to my own astonishment, these 3 simple principles guided my entire leadership experience and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I now feel like I can be a better and more effective leader in my community using this as my guide.

  1. Clown: While the week would be full of work and most likely some stress, we must still enjoy ourselves and have some fun. What better than a giant, red clown nose to depict the silly side of ourselves?! Truth be told, at least once every single day I put on this nose, held it in my hand, or at the very least thought about it to remind myself to let loose a little…and it worked!
  2. Fishbowl: Things you may think are insignificant, can be hugely important to others. The fishbowl effect works both ways, in that you can see more looking out, and you are magnified by others looking in. More than ever before, I was aware of each word out of my mouth, each interaction, and each movement I made. Whereas I thought this would interfere with my experience, it actually added greatly to it.
  3. Duck: While floating on the surface, smoothly and eloquently, underneath, they are vigorously paddling their feet to keep moving. Would you know this if you weren’t a duck yourself? Nope, I wouldn’t at least! Stay calm and go with the flow, be a duck! As personnel there was so much behind the scenes work done that the participants didn’t know about, which is exactly how it is supposed to be done!
 3. Programming…It’s Not As Easy As You Think

Each of the programs were so well thought out and beautifully executed. I personally took away so many themes and lessons from each of the programs, that will carry over into other aspects of my life beyond NFTY. It was so clear in every single program that the program writer was incredibly passionate about their topic. Each and every one of them was excellent. And now I see, from the personnel side, how much work went into making our visions realities!

As a group leader, these programs were especially amazing for me. Throughout each program I witnessed the wheels turning in all of the participants’ brains. I could see the excitement, engagement, frustration, confusion, enlightenment, and the list goes on! I was filled with so much joy as I saw the hard work of each of the program writers coming to life before my own eyes. I learned so much from the content in each program, from being a leader in these groups, from going off-script and working the conversation, from each of the participants, and more! Group leading and learning from my amazing peers was absolutely one of the best parts of this event for me.

4. Why Are NFTY Services Unlike All Other Services?

Each service, led by a different Prayer Coordinator affected me in it’s own unique and individual way. These services connected our community to each other and to Judaism beyond expectation. NFTY services are engaging, loud and passionate, fun, meaningful, and, well just plain nifty!

One theme that stayed consistent for me personally throughout every service was the shema. Since I was a little girl I never understood why people closed their eyes for the shema. Just a few years ago I recall saying to my mom, “The shema is the time in the service when things so slow down for me and I get to look around the room and see all of the people I love. Why would I close my eyes to such an incredible thing?” To this day I feel the same way. In every service at this event I kept my eyes open during the shema so that I could look around and see the amazing community around me.

With each and every service and song session, I could feel the energy in my body grow. The voices of all our NFTY family coming together was the most encouraging and motivating sensation I have ever experienced. It is why I love Reform Judaism. We can all jump in the air and dance like crazy to Miriam’s song and wiggle our shoulders for the Bar’chu, and have it be our prayer; with so much ruach!!

5. Community, I Guess That’s Important

Never before in my life have I felt so comfortable in my own skin and able to be my authentic, genuine self. I know that when I am at a NFTY event, and even when I leave, these people are there for me. It is a family, and a bond that cannot be broken. These are the people that I can be crazy and silly with, but also sit down and have meaningful life conversations with. These are the people that don’t just talk about making change, but actually set out to achieve it. These are the people that help you be the best version of yourself, even at your lowest points.

Not only is this a special and unique community, but this is a special and unique JEWISH community. Judaism means something different to everybody, but for me NFTY is my definition of Judaism. I feel most holy and Jewish when I am a part of this community. Thank you all for embracing me and making this experience exactly what it was; it would not have been the same without each and every one of you.


An experience and community like that in NFTY is so rare to find in other aspects of our lives. It is something that when it is a part of your life, you crave and feel as though you cannot live without. When I am in NFTY I feel INSPIRED, EMPOWERED, PASSIONATE, LOVED, CAPABLE, STRONG, EMOTIONAL, IMPORTANT, and the list goes on and on. I feel like I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE when I am in NFTY. I feel like I can use the tools and skills I gain in the community and use them to enhance myself outside the NFTY bubble.

During this week of December Institute I had several people come up to me and say that I INSPIRED THEM and I CHANGED THEIR LIFE. Hearing these phrases affected me more than I had anticipated. To myself I thought, life is complete… you have changed one person’s life and they will pay it forward because of you. WOW. You are an essential and important piece of the mitzvah puzzle, and without you, NFTY would not be complete.

7. What Now?

Looking back now, I am so thankful for both the internal and external drive pushing me to come back to NFTY event after event, year after year. Now, I finally get it, and it was so beyond worth it. As my best friend, Maddy Shapiro calls it, I had my “I love NFTY moment”.

So how do I take these experiences and strong emotions and translate them into my secular life? How do I recreate these feelings and friendships outside of NFTY? Even I do not have an answer to these questions and am still struggling with them myself. However, I do know that I need to continue to 1. Surround myself with people that lift me up and help me be my best self, 2. Be a part of a community where I can be a leader and make a difference, 3. Be a bigger part of NFTY!!! These feeling of post-institute-depression are VALID and important to acknowledge! Let yourself feel. Take a deep breath. And take life one day at a time. <3