The following article appeared in the September 12, 2019 edition of the Jewish Herald-Voice and can be accessed online on their website.
By Cameron Samuels, 2019-2020 NFTY-TOR Social Action Chair
While many spent their Labor Day weekend at home barbecuing, Reform Jewish teens from Texas and Oklahoma enjoyed a “Summerpalooza,” packed with ’90s-themed fun.
The URJ Greene Family Camp not only puts on outstanding summer experiences for Reform Jewish children and teens, the camp also has been the host of many events for the Texas and Oklahoma region (TOR) of the Reform Jewish Youth Movement (NFTY). Each year, NFTY-TOR unites teens to participate in Jewish learning, social action projects and camp-style activities that create endless bonds of friendship among the teens.
This past Labor Day weekend, teens participated in programs focusing on topics ranging from arts to sports and adventure. Inside the Madrichim training program track, members of Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism participated in group activities, teaching teens how to become Hebrew class assistants, and how to work with students at different levels and abilities. Meanwhile, the social action track featured a mock trial of a burglary, acting as a metaphor for sexual violence.
“The mock trial program was written with the hope that participants would be able to take away the knowledge to do their part in changing the narrative surrounding sexual violence, emphasizing the fact that victims should be taken seriously and treated with respect,” said Erin Solka, of Austin, one of the two regional social action chairs. “During the program, participants were engaged and eager to learn. With the success of programs like these, I am hopeful for the future we are creating: a kinder and more just world.”
Several Houston teens took charge and led numerous programs throughout the event. Ronen Wendefer, a congregant at HCRJ, led an activity in which participants created “MadLibs” using Yiddish words. Tori Berman, from Temple Sinai, represented Houston as the sub-regional chair and served as one of the photographers for the event. Also from Houston, Gabby Iaroslovitz, a 2019 URJ Kutz Camp alum, was present at the event.
Every major NFTY event includes Asefah, a Congress-like meeting in which the youth groups vote on legislation that will improve participants’ experiences in the upcoming year. Legislation regarding feminine hygiene products being made available in the bathrooms was introduced during this year’s Asefah, and it passed unanimously.
An essential part in the success of the weekend lies in the leadership of the region’s president. Elected in April, Micah Heilbron of Austin serves as the region’s president and is responsible for taking charge in organizing the weekend’s activities, helping lead programs and following up with people after the event to strengthen the Reform movement.
The regional board also includes Jonathon Kresspach, Camille Trawick, Molly Zimmerman, Jake Greer and Sophie Appel.
The region is now focusing on preparing for their next event, TzedaKallah, which will be taking place in Austin on Dec. 6-8. More information about this event can be found at nfty.org/tor.