For NFTYites, Social Justice "Simply Feels Right"
Toby Cook is the Social Action Vice President of NFTY-OV, the Ohio Valley region of the North American Federation of Temple Youth.
You are walking in a forest path or
at a family gathering and suddenly you pause.
You are overtaken by a feeling, you can't describe it, but it feels
right; it feels holy. You don't know why this moment in your life is holy, it just is.
describes Social Action and Tikkun Olam (one of the 13 guiding principles of NFTY)
differently. Some individuals find
holiness in volunteering at local organizations, while others pursue justice in
advocacy campaigns, writing letters to pass legislation that promotes their progressive
ideals. In NFTY-Ohio Valley, a region encompassing the
states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Western West Virginia, we have
a simple definition: Social Action is
something we come together to do because we know, we feel, that it is a
unifying and holy experience.
has social action projects at almost all of our regional gatherings, and at the
local Temple Youth Group (TYG) level we are blessed to have dedicated Social Action Vice
Presidents (SAVPs) who keep the tradition active throughout the year. Ohio Valley takes great pride in the
uniqueness of each TYG and it reflects on our community service.
- At the regional level, we have worked with
NFTY's Missouri Valley region at our first event to organize and supply a Children's Bureau office so
that they could more effectively help children in trouble and also created care
packages for the elderly in need of basic necessities they could not afford.
NFTY Ohio Valley's network of TYG Social Action Vice Presidents successfully ran several fundraisers during the High Holy Days that
benefited the URJ's Nothing
But Nets initiative.
- At our sub-regional events, we looked at hunger and what
goes in to feeding families healthily while on strict budgets as well as
collected goods at a Predator's hockey game.
- At our Study Kallah in conjunction with Hebrew
Union College-Cincinnati, we learned about what it takes to support St. Jude
Children's Research Hospital and continued our multi-year project to help them heal the
- This year we added a special twist! At our end of the year regional event,
the Ohio Valley Regional Board and Regional Adviser will be dyeing our hair to
raise money; at one event alone, we raised more than $200.
At local events, participants have learned
about mental illness, supported Haiti fundraisers, and are busy planning
different Purim carnivals with Social Action aspects. These are just a few of
the projects our region has done, but the question is why? Why volunteer our time? How does this impact us?
first event, NFTY Institute, I stood before our region and asked what issues
they cared about. While I only intended
the question to provoke a short and simple conversation, it led to an intense
series of questions and answers in which I saw people from all backgrounds
become excited to talk about issues they feel are important to them and to our
region. This was one of the most holy
moments of my life: seeing people come alive talking about how we can make a
difference. Our conversation at NFTY Institute has served as a foundation for
our Region's ever growing commitment to social action. As a senior, it is my
hope that future NFTYites partake in similar conversations and moreover feel
mobilized to take on the multi-faceted challenge of Tikkun Olam.
I am so
excited for the upcoming year's youth leaders of NFTY to take on our new Action
Theme, "Anavah: Humility - What Do We Really Need? NFTY Addresses Overconsumption" What do we really need? NFTY
Addresses Overconsumption. A NFTY Action Theme is voted on by the NFTY General
Board for the next year. It guides our
direct action projects and limudim (educational programming) on social action.
Every generation has an issue that will define it in history and ours is the
environment. NFTY takes an active role
in this for a simple reason, because for NFTYites around North America, it
simply feels right.
To quote NFTY President Aliza Gazek, "I will
forever be a NFTYite." I will forever be
connected to the Reform Movement because they have awakened in me a love of
social justice that is one of the most beautiful parts of my region. Rebbe Nachman's prayer for peace reads, "Let love
and justice flow like a mighty stream. Let peace fill the earth as the waters
fill the sea." As NFTY works this year to conserve our natural resources and
reduce consumption, I know my regional along with the other 18 amazing regions
of Reform Jewish Youth will join me in saying, "Let love and justice flow like
a mighty stream. NFTY can and will be that mighty stream; and let us say to