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NFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps

An Open Letter…

Dear rising 7th, 8th & 9th Graders,

nfty-MAR logoI am writing this letter to you as someone who has sat in your shoes…

At the end of my 7th grade year, I asked myself a simple yet life-changing question, “My bat mitzvah is done. Now what? Do I want to join OATY?” Back then “Oaty” was the name of a dumb dog in a comic strip. He was goofy, funny, a prankster, and loyal to a fault to his friends. It took me a few years until I figured it out. Now when I think of OATY, I think of a family, a loving community filled with joy and fun and of a life changing experience.

Here I am, sitting in my room at Urban Mitzvah Corps in New Jersey, where every day I work, pray, sing, love, and live with 31 Jewish teens from around the United States. Through this life-altering four weeks I’ve realized an important truth about my life. I’ve gained so much by being a part of OATY and NFTY.

Yes, the transition between middle school and high school is difficult; however, OATY is anything but a burden.

Joining OATY (and NFTY) have honestly made me feel connected to Judaism and proud to say I’m a Jewish teenager! I’ve learned what it means to be part of an amazing Jewish community. Being Jewish is not only about prayers and Torah. It’s about taking what you’ve learned in Sunday school and using it every day. It’s about learning to not judge – rather love – people who are different. It’s about knowing that I, even as a teenager, can can change things for the better. OATY and NFTY are the best places to express your ideas in a judgment free environment and to work with other kids to make these ideas a reality.

As an active OATY-ite last year, I heard from other kids that boring services and lack things for teens to do at Temple are the two main reasons why kids drop out after 8th grade. Being in your shoes once before, I know your arguments. I understand where you are coming from. Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that NFTY events are completely different. For example, Shabbat services are one of the most powerful experiences of NFTY events. Hearing everyone’s voices singing through prayer has been one of the most emotional moments that I have witnessed in my life. And the best part is that now Rabbi Ahuva is bringing NFTY ruach (spirit) into Or Ami.

NFTY and OATY are all about the teen engagement! Our voices are actually listened to by our peers and the adults and rabbis that work with us. If I had to describe NFTY and OATY in a few simple words, I would say: friendship, family, and love.

So – before saying “Nah, why would I want to be part of OATY?” – remember these words. I don’t regret joining in 8th grade. Don’t make a mistake and miss out… and please join OATY!

Your fellow Or Ami member (and active OATYite / NFTYite!),

– Alana Silbert
   OATY President, 5775
   July 2014