by Rabbi Elisa F. Koppel
It’s been a week since I returned home from NFTY Convention and the Youth Engagement Conference. Between catching up, Purim, and exhaustion, I haven’t yet gotten the chance to post some reflections. I had hoped to blog during the event, but seemed to use every moment for catching up and networking with old friends and cherished colleagues. Today, thanks to Jury Duty, I have some time to sit and write. I actually started writing this while at the convention!
Roll into dark
Roll into light
Night becomes day
Day turns to night
On Friday night, after the conference had opened and we had enjoyed Shabbat dinner with the kids, we gathered together at the Youth Engagement Conference for Shabbat evening worship. On this first night if the conference, gathering together with a new community, one made up of both new and long familiar faces, excited to engage, the feeling in the room was wonderful. And what a blessing to be led by Noam Katz and Beth Schafer, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure to know and to learn from for many years.
While initially disappointed that we weren’t going to be with NFTY for this service, in retrospect, being among colleagues, in a small, more intimate setting, was just what I needed. Toward the beginning of the service, as we got ready to pray Ma’ariv Aravim (the creation blessing, giving thanks for the cycles of the universe), Noam invited us to reflect on what cycles we were observing–to notice the patterns of our own lives, especially as present at the convention–to consider how they appear. As he took a few answers from those gathered, he led us in a movement exercise, as we began to sing, our voices cycling through the words and the melody, creating beautiful music.
As I reflected on the cycles of my own experience, I considered the feeling of déjà vu I kept having, remembering the last time this convention had been at the same hotel. I couldn’t escape the feeling of running into my own memories, as I stepped on the same spot anew. So I tried to embrace it.
I realized that this was my eighth NFTY Convention, having attended as a teen, an RA, Head RA, and then at youth workers conferences as a participant and a member of the planning team. Each of these experiences was unique, yet included echos of those conventions that had come before. And this time, those feelings of returning to and recognizing the cycles of my past enabled me to appreciate this convention in a new way. I’m not sure what was so different about this time. Maybe it was just that I was more cognizant of it.
And maybe it was a combination of other factors, starting with literally being in a place where I had been once before. But there was more. Being there with five young people from my congregation enabled me to experience it through their eyes–remembering my own sheer joy and awe upon gathering with so many NFTY-ites as I saw the smiles on their faces. And I had the wonderful experience of being able to enjoy the Youth Engagement Conference with several people whom I had known when they were NFTY-ites, who had now become colleagues. Hearing about their journeys, realizing the impact of the work that we do with our young people in a tangible way, and being able to learn from their wisdom was a gift. And, as always, seeing so many people from so many years of being involved in Reform Judaism was treasured time. This time, with the bonus of meeting face to face with people that I had prior to this convention, had only known through social media. It is always the networking and the shared conversations that are always at the heart of this event for me–in person social networking, so to speak.
All in all, throughout the five days of the conference, I reflected on these ideas. Again and again, enjoying moments of realization that while I had been here before, each moment of the experience was also brand new. Time after time, having that unique feeling of memories running into each other, even as they are formed. And knowing in my heart, that I’d return to them once again in the future.
Rabbi Elisa F. Koppel is the associate rabbi and youth director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, N.J.
Originally posted at Off the REKord