Ruth Y is a sophomore from Columbus, Indiana. She participates in NFTY-OV and serves on her local Temple Youth Group Board as Programming Vice President.
I come from a very small congregation in south central Indiana. When most people think of a “small congregation,” they imagine a synagogue with 50-100 families. My congregation, Sha’arei Shalom, has at most 50 people, and we rarely interact with the entire congregation unless there is a major holiday. On a normal Friday service, our student rabbi is lucky to have a minyan (10 Jewish adults). We do not have our own building (we rent space from a local church), our Torah was anonymously donated on the condition that it is returned if our congregation ceases to be, and almost all of our regular members are over the age of 50. The last point has especially posed an issue for our congregation, which has had almost no youth to make up a youth group.
My sister first learned about the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and Temple Youth Groups (TYGs) from one of our student rabbis at the end of her sophomore year of high school. After some research, she learned about and registered for an Ohio Valley (OV) regional event, Leadership Training Kallah (LTK) 2014 at the URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI). When she returned from the weekend, she was so excited about the community she had found, and she insisted that I attend a future event. Thus, with my enthusiastic sister’s encouragement, I signed up for the LTK 2015 at URJ GUCI. I was slightly nervous before the event. I was concerned that I would not be able to establish myself in a group where everyone knew each other already. However, I was going with my sister, so I knew that at least I would be able to spend time with someone.
As soon as I got into the van of the Nashville youth group with whom my sister and I were carpooling, I knew that I had assumed correctly: the teens were quite close. However, I was immediately accepted by some of the members of the different youth groups. The previous year, my sister had started a youth group for our congregation and appointed I was appointed as the Programming Vice President (PVP). I had no idea what I was to do, but one of the girls in the van, the PVP from Nashville, took me under her wing and assured me that she would help me if I needed it. Throughout the weekend, I met more and more people who accepted me and shared similar interests. Even my roommates, who had known each other before and were quite good friends, sat with me at meals and stayed up late with me, snacking, talking, and laughing. Even though everyone came from different cities, congregations, and TYGs, there was a unity among all of the OV teens that seemed to transcend the differences of background or home. On Sunday morning, after buying NFTY swag and watching a video montage of the weekend, everyone was reluctant to leave their old and new friends alike. People took photos together, exchanged phone numbers and social media handles, and gave final hugs and goodbyes before finally departing.
During the van ride back home on Sunday, I really realized how close I had gotten to the people NFTY-OV in just one short weekend. I discovered a completely unique group of peers that was incredibly kind and diverse, and motivated to make a change the world. I knew then that I really wanted to be a part of that. The people from other TYGs I had met had really encouraged me not only to come to the next event, but also to get involved in my own TYG and community. Now, my new youth group has already had an event and we are planning several more for the coming months. I am so excited to see what the OV teens will be able to do in the future. I look forward to two more years of events and I cannot wait to get my next fix of NFTY-OV magic courtesy of my new friends and community.