By Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler
Over MLK Weekend, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel had the honor and pleasure of hosting NFTY-PAR’s WINSTY event. In true NFTY form, the idea of hosting came from our teens who brought the idea to our advisor last Spring. As a Rabbi and former NFTYite, I have been involved with NFTY-PAR for many years. Nevertheless, neither I nor our youth advisor, who has also been involved extensively, understood how transformational the weekend would be.
I recently had the honor of hearing Miriam Chilton, URJ Vice President of Youth, speak about the NFTY’s mission to develop teen Reform Jewish leaders. This idea of leadership development has never been more clear to me than it was when watching and supporting the planning for our WINSTY weekend. It was truly an amazing example of parents and teens, clergy, advisors, and congregants all pulling together for a common goal. Everyone was energized to learn that 130 teens would choose to spend the weekend at KI, our synagogue, connecting to each other and learning about how to make a difference in our world.
Our families were truly inspired by the incredible community which went out of its way to be inclusive, especially towards those with special needs. At every turn the teens were models of gracious and engaged leaders. Our clergy and regular Friday Night attendees were beaming with pride as the 9th – 12th graders, many of whom grew up in our halls, emerged as these new prayer leaders. They showed pride in the community in which they were raised and were eager to share their spiritual home with their friends.
The event was especially impactful for myself and our TYG advisor, both new to our formal role with our youth group. As we worked together with our teens and their families for the past six months to coordinate the details and logistics of the event, we were able to get to know our families better, to engage them in our youth program, and to help our teens learn about Jewish life, about the behind the scenes work of volunteering and learning, and about how to appropriately plan for and welcome guests to our community.
We could not be more grateful for this experience and we could not be more proud of our KIFTY teens, our NFTY region, or our sacred work.
Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler has worked at Camp Harlam, the URJ Department of Jewish Education and the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. and is the current Director of Religious Education at KI. She brings a firm belief that Jewish education can be engaging and inspiring to all of her work.