by Beth Lipschutz, Regional Director of NFTY-MV (Missouri Valley)
My heart is being pulled in so many different directions. I spent Presidents’ Day weekend in Chicago with 1400 Jewish teens and youth professionals at NFTY Convention and the URJ Youth Summit. Teens had the opportunity to focus on a social justice topic of their choice, learn about community organizing using a toolkit created by the Religious Action Center, explore how to turn their passions into action with different creative expression workshops, and then work with various non-profit organizations making a difference in Chicago. Teens came together from all over North America to pray, learn, sing, dance and brainstorm ways to create positive change in their home communities. And to top it all off, Pastor Chris Harris helped NFTY launch our Racial Justice Campaign. NFTY Convention was truly an inspirational weekend that filled my heart with pride and joy.
However, before I even had a chance to thank every URJ staff member, volunteer, and teen leader who helped to make all of the moving parts of NFTY Convention work so participants experienced life changing moments, built friendships, and created memories that will help form their Jewish identities, I learned of the destruction of over 150 tombstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis on Monday, February 20th. My family, and the family of so many others, are laid to rest in this holy space and it is terrifying that hatred can be so close to home. The act has not officially been labeled as anti-Semitism, but that doesn’t change the overwhelming sadness in my heart.
But then within just a few hours, the Muslim community raised over $20,000 to help with the clean up effort. In the next few days, over $60,000 was raised to donate to the cemetery. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of St. Louis worked with local clergy to organize an interfaith clean up and vigil. Over 2500 people, of all backgrounds and faiths, came together on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 22nd . And just like we talked about at NFTY Convention, local teens turned their passion for their community into action by participating in the clean up effort. NFTY Missouri Valley members wrote about their experience for the NFTY Blog and for their school newspaper. Teens are taking initiative to speak up about their beliefs in both their words and their actions.
My heart is being pulled in so many different directions. Fortunately, the biggest pull is coming from a place hope. Together, we can work to make a difference.