By: Alex Elbogen, NFTY-SW
NFTY-Southwest has never been a quiet region. We sing loud and we cheer even louder. There was no better place for us to show that spirit than at this year’s Leadership Training Institute (LTI) at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, AZ. Wildcat country. It seemed as though the energy and spirit from the nearby University of Arizona’s nationally renowned student section known as the “Zona Zoo” had seeped into the hearts, minds and souls of this year’s LTI attendees. 75 teens and 14 advisors. That’s it. Unlike the Zona Zoo, we didn’t need thousands of screaming heads to get us inspired. We only needed 89 of them. 89 leaders that is. This year’s participants took part in a journey through character building, discussions on this year’s social action initiatives on gun violence prevention and race relations, multiple leadership workshops that gave us tools and ideas to bring back home to our respective Temple Youth Groups, and a touching Torah study on the value of justice in society. We capped off this impactful weekend like anyone else would in the scorching southwest. That’s right. Pool Party!
The most valuable part of this weekend was that this group of teens found something that in my three previous years in NFTY-Southwest had yet to be fully realized. Thanks to our special guest, Jacob “Spike” Krauss, and our other talented song leaders, we all found this undying companionship through song and dance. But more than anything, we were able to look around at our peers and feel a sense of belonging that was on a different level than ever felt before in my time with the Southwest region of NFTY. It’s hard to put into words because it’s a feeling. A feeling that has been unmatched. A feeling that I hope never ceases to exist in this very unique region.
This weekend took these teen leaders from workshop to workshop, program to program. In my opinion, LTI was perfectly timed. It was our first event of the year and set the tone for the NFTY-Southwest 2015-2016 school year. With Fall Kallah fast approaching and many new members on the way, these leaders are more prepared to share their lessons learned from the Leadership Training Institute and do their part in enriching the lives of our new friends by showing their passion, courage, and endless smiles. Thinking back upon the thrilling song sessions, the social action discussions, and the amazing friendships, I can’t help but smile ear to ear and think to myself “This is where I belong.”