by Shirah Kraus, NFTY-OV

HUC Study Weekend As the conclusion draws closer, the 15-year-old aspiring cantor leading havdallah asks the circle of friends what we would bring back home with us. Everyone. The few vs. the many. Community. Connection. Love. Chocolate Moses. Friends. Social Action. Social justice. Babies and starfish. Questions.

What happened here will NOT stay here. Even though this havdallah marks the end of Shabbat, the separation of the holy and the profane, the holiness of Shabbat is not confined to Shabbat. The holiness of Shabbat, the holiness of community, the holiness of learning will transcend this one weekend at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, shared with the Religious Action Center, NFTY, new found best friends, and amazing Rabbinical students.

This unique conglomeration occurred at NFTY’s Teen Study Weekend/HUC Cincinnati’s youth retreat: From Tzedek to Tzedakah. About twenty kids from all across America and Canada came together to discuss and do Tikkun Olam. In just about forty hours, we did everything from crying for laughing so hard #becauseyolo to learning from Rabbi Gary Zola (who knows your rabbi) about the disproportionate Reform Jewish impact in the Civil Rights Movement. We debated whether to donate money to Red Cross or Magen David Adom (Jewish Red Cross: Red Star of David) and we argued over which has a bigger impact: lobbying or protesting. We discussed our favorite quotes and talked to HUC students about different causes. During our Friday evening program, rabbinical student Leah Citrin told a story that really touched me. Millions of starfish are scattered on the sand. They are dying. A small boy is picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. His father challenges that the boy will never be able to throw back all the starfish, so why does it matter? The boy throws back another starfish and says, “It matters to that one.” I hope I can matter to someone.

At NFTY events, I think I enjoy what Abraham Maslow would call “peak experiences.” I am at the height of joy, excitement, creativity, fun, learning, and morality. I live more fully and everything in the world makes sense. Or it doesn’t  But it makes sense that it doesn’t  Every NFTY event is a model for kehilah kedoshah, holy community—this event particularly so. Because of the holiness of the community, I learned valuable life concepts that will crystallize in my brain and impact my world view.

This feeling isn’t enough. The conversation isn’t over  and the conversation isn’t the endpoint. It’s just the beginning, the inspiration for action. What most impacted me about this weekend is that in my daily life, I have to make choices that reflect these Jewish beliefs, these personal beliefs, these universal beliefs. “It is not incumbent upon me to complete the work, but neither am I free to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot).

This article was written by Shirah Kraus as she reflected on the NFTY/RAC/AJA youth program at HUC,
Teaching to Fish or Giving a Fish: Tzedek vs. Tzedakah. Shirah is the Social Action Vice President (SAVP) of the Youth Group YGOR. She is really looking forward to planning NFTY-tOV’s (the Ohio Valley) Regionals—our main event of the year where a few hundred NFTYites from across the region unite as one big community—in her hometown of Cincinnati, OH. She is a junior at Walnut Hills High School and serves as co-consul of Walnut’s Junior Classical League. Just a few months ago, she spent an amazing summer at NFTY-EIE High School in Israel and she is applying to do the work-study program, Avodah, this coming summer at her second home, Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI). She loves learning, psychology, social action, and Judaism.