By Joshua Rosenblum
Seeing six teens you don’t know can be overwhelming. But try nearly 600 teens like at NFTY Convention. I was lucky enough to go into the weekend knowing a number of people from my region and from my time at URJ Kutz Camp last summer, but even with that, I still sometimes felt lost in a sea of faces I didn’t recognize. I felt like I was starting all over again in NFTY. To combat this feeling that I’m sure everyone at Convention had at one point or another, there were opportunities to connect with people in smaller groups like during breakout-programming time on Sunday morning. For one of the programming blocks, I opted to go to a program titled “Including ALL of Our Teens.” Led by a few teens from NFTY-Missouri Valley along with their regional advisor Beth Lipschutz, the program was a guided discussion on how to create a fully inclusive environment for TYG events, Regional events, and even North American events. This idea of including everyone seemed like a no-brainer to me at first. Why wouldn’t we try to create a fully inclusive environment? As the program went on, though, I realized that inclusion is much more than giving everyone the option to participate; it’s about being proactively inclusive in order to help people feel like a valued member of the community.
Though it may sound simple, total inclusion is actually much more difficult to achieve than it seems. This is because we don’t always think about how certain people are being excluded. As a basic example, for programs that require participants to do some kind of research, we sometimes tell participants to use their phones to look up information. But what if someone doesn’t have a phone? That person is then put in a position where they either have to work with someone else or not participate at all. If the person is shy, asking to work with someone can be scary, so in order to make that person feel included, the research part of the program could begin with a program leader saying “in groups of two or three, use one of your phones to research.” This type of situation may not be the first most people think of when they hear the word inclusion, but it is no less important than any other situation where someone has the potential to feel excluded. Another example of a time where someone could easily feel excluded is when people are told to get into groups. I’ve personally experienced times where I didn’t know anyone in a room, but everyone seemed to know everyone else. So they quickly formed their own groups, not even thinking about the people that didn’t end up in their group. It’s not that those people were intentionally exclusive; it’s simply that they weren’t proactively inclusive. Fortunately, many people in NFTY are aware of the small things that can make people feel excluded and they do a fantastic job of making everybody feel welcome. However, the program I attended at NFTY Convention made me think, what if the situations that could make people feel excluded were thought of and addressed before they even arose? Of course, we can’t think of all of the possible situations that could exclude people. But by being proactively inclusive, we can make NFTY events better for everyone.