Youths proclaim love for Israel, belief in shared humanity
by Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week
The snow in the nation's capital may have scrapped plans for an Israel rally at the Capitol, but it could not dampen the enthusiasm of almost 1,300 high school students from across North America at the annual National Federation of Temple Youth convention in the District.
Ten Dallas Area Federation Temple Youth (DAFTY) members from Temple Emanu-El, Dallas, accompanied by Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, attended the conference.
The Reform Jewish youth group moved its Feb. 17 rally inside the Grand Hyatt hotel, but student speakers were still able to proclaim their support and love for Israel, while also emphasizing their desire for peace and their belief that all people have a shared humanity.
"The headlines read: 'Twelve Israelis dead, 14 Palestinian dead.' What is wrong with the situation is we are unable to look beyond our identities as Jews or Muslims, Israelis or Palestinians, to see our common humanity," said David Ladon, NFTY's religious and cultural vice president. "We are all created equal."
"There needs to be a shift in the mind-set of those involved in the conflict," said Adam Seidman, religious and cultural vice president of NFTY's New York region. "If the Israelis and Palestinians can realize that they are all part of one human race, it is possible that a solution might be reached, and the violence will cease, and Israel will be fair for all people."
NFTY national president Chad Rochind pointed out that "Israel's enemies are not the Arabs of the Middle East, or the Palestinians," but "hate ... distortion of history ... ignorance and apathy."
He urged everyone to "go out and learn" about Israel so they can defend the Jewish state when they reach college, but also encouraged everyone to "reach out" and "form bonds" with those who he prays "yearn for peace as much as we do."
Dallas' Dylah Werbner said the convention's five days were "filled with learning, laughter, singing, dancing, making new friends, reuniting with old ones and building a stronger Reform youth community."
While the originally scheduled speakers were unable to make it, the students heard, via telephone from Israel, from Israeli Labor Party Knesset members Colette Avital and Avraham Burg and Union of American Hebrew Congregations president Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and sang Israeli peace songs with singers Rick Recht and Beth Schafer.
The convention, with the theme "Our Heart is in the East," focused on Israel. Participants had a chance to talk by phone with more than two dozen high school students in Israel on NFTY's international exchange program, and to buy products from Ben Yehuda Street vendors who had traveled from Jerusalem.
While the rally had to be moved indoors, NFTY was able to hold a Havdalah service Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial, which Ilana Chernow, mid-Atlantic regional adviser and regional director of youth and informal education, described as "very cold and very beautiful."
"Besides having a great time praying, singing and dancing, we also had an amazing time on a bus tour through D.C.," Werbner said. "Some of the places we visited included the White House, the Capitol, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. Havdalah services took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial staring down into the frozen reflection pool."
The Lincoln Memorial event, as well as the rest of the convention, was held under tight security. Chernow said NFTY took "every precaution" possible, including restricting access to the conference, hiring off-duty police officers to assist with security and stationing a police car outside the hotel. The FBI met with hotel staff prior to the event as well.
"If you were to ask any NFTYite what was one of their favorite experiences on the trip," Werbner said, "most would say the Jewish rock concert, featuring Rick Recht and Dan Nichols, Saturday evening. Their ruach and spirit carried over to the audience."
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, February 27, 2003