Submission for Wendy Blickstein Memorial D’var Torah Competition by Ana Bane
Many of you are probably familiar with Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I like to visualize a stone thrown into a pond. The stone drops into the water, and rings ripple out, farther and farther, until they reach the water’s edge. Every stone affects the entire ecosystem; every action impacts the whole community. This theory is described in the Butterfly Effect. That is, a thing as small as the beat of a butterfly’s wings can influence vast global weather phenomena; that small acts of change can make a world of difference.
In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Moses makes a small change that has a huge impact on his life and the lives of the Israelites. Moses receives leadership advice from his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro observed Moses bearing all the responsibility of administering justice to the people, which created an issue not only for Moses, but also for the lines and lines of people waiting to talk to him. Jethro advises Moses to appoint a hierarchy of judges to share the burden. Delegating the work greatly improved everyone’s lives, as it was much easier for Moses to handle and a more efficient process of meeting the needs of the Israelites.
Following Jethro’s suggestion, Moses rearranges the leadership structure so that some people are the leaders of thousands, some are the leaders of hundreds, some are the leaders of fifty, and some are the leaders of ten. This system parallels many modern organizations. Rather than one person bearing all the challenges of leading an entire society, multiple trusted citizens take on the role of leader and lighten the load. Even NFTY, for example, has its own system of delegating work.
In NFTY there are seven elected positions on any given board. North American Board controls the organization on a broad scale, and they oversee the work of the regions. We have 19 regions in total, each with their own 7-member regional board. That makes 133 RegBo members in total. Each regional board controls its own region of a few hundred teens. Assisting each board member is a chair committee. The responsibility of the chair committee is to lead more intimate groups of 10 or 20, such as during programs. Program participants often take back their experiences from NFTY to their own temple youth groups. Like the stone in the pond, each one of our NFTY leaders influences the people they interact with — the effect ripples all the way from national to regional to local.
Could you imagine if NFTY only had a national board? All of this would be gone. The regions would be lost, and the youth groups would be lost, and then the individuals would be lost. Without each piece, the structure would fall apart.
We are each a crucial part of this puzzle. By being here in Chicago, you are proving that you are devoted to your personal growth and the growth of your region. And that’s freaking fantastic!!! What brings us together is our Jewish identity and our love for NFTY. Through NFTY, we feel empowered, welcomed, loved. NFTY embraces us and lifts us up. At home we are athletes, artists, writers, singers, dancers, chefs, activists, you name it, but here we are one big amazing community. We welcome diversity, for it is what makes us unique, what makes us strong. We feel important because we learn what an impact we can have.
For this reason I decided to apply for a chair position in NFTY. To be quite honest, I never imagined I would take on a leadership position in NFTY. I assumed NFTY would be a casual part of my life, a space filler in between camp.
Boy, was I wrong.
It’s an understatement to say I was overwhelmed at my first event. NFTY is certainly intense! I couldn’t quite grasp who these “Reej Bow” people were and why they were so important. Not to mention the gazillion acronyms! And what the heck is a “chair” and why do we need so many?? (I now realize how much dedication and effort it takes to organize events!). Over the course of my first year, I eased into the flow of it all and eventually came to understand and appreciate NFTY’s intricate system of leadership.
So when it came time, I decided to apply for a social action chair position. I can proudly say this was one of the best decisions of my life. It has opened up so many opportunities that I hadn’t previously fathomed possible.
Social action brings me that much more love for Judaism and Tikkun Olam. Through SA networking, we identify issues and learn how to address them. I then write programs and present them to my temple, and as many of you can attest to, watching my peers engage in programs that I crafted is truly inspiring. One of these programs was at NFTY SOCAL’s Social Justice Kallah, where I wrote and led a rotation on card making. With construction paper, markers, and stickers, participants crafted lovely, personal cards for United States veterans and hospitalized children. All together, we created nearly 100 cards. These small acts of kindness, these quick and easy gestures of compassion can mean everything to a person who feels scared and alone.
I am continuously impressed with how NFTY inspires me to go further. I am beyond proud to be a part of the NFTY community. Together, each one of us can cast our own stones into the water. Let your ripples create waves of change for a better world. We hold the power to make a difference. Our generation is not to be underestimated– we are passionate and we can change the world starting with one small act of kindness.