NFTY, You Never Told Us

Growing up in the Reform Jewish movement, social justice was always at the core of our education. And the Reform movement was at the core of our lives.
The Reform movement is how we met, when we were both serving as our respective regions’ Social Action Vice Presidents (SAVP) with the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY). Southern California for Aaron and Central West Region for Anya.  
The Reform movement gave us our second homes—our summer camps—Camp Hess Kramer for Aaron and URJ Camp Newman for Anya. We served as Madrichim at our respective temples, and were active participants in our youth groups.
Aaron spent a summer doing NFTY in Israel, and Anya spent a semester in Israel with NFTY EIE.
Our early lives and educations revolved around Reform Judaism, and through it all we gained a strong sense of justice. We were given the necessary tools and knowledge to stand up and fight for justice. Our early work in the same-sex marriage fight, immigration, climate justice, and housing advocacy was grounded in the tradition of Jewish social action.
Butwhen it came to justice in Israel/Palestine, our Reform community gave us only silence [pullquote] when it came to justice in Israel/Palestine, our Reform community gave us only silence
[/pullquote]. Silence on justice, and a singular focus on “cultural” topics. The adults around us in our respective communities and institutions steered us toward a “cultural” connection to the state of Israel that we now realize as anything but apolitical.

We were asked to imagine Israel as our homeland and to share affinity with a people and place we knew little about. We made pita bread on an open fire, ate falafel, and took classes in Israeli dance.
If we ever started to veer into the political sphere, even to ask basic questions, we felt ill-equipped to engage. The message we received from our teachers and spiritual leaders was that in order to have a “stance on the issue,” we had to have a rolodex of facts, dates, and names at the ready. We were given those “facts” about Israel, and taught there was no other side.
As we got older and began to engage in politics and social justice work outside of the Reform movement, it became clear that we did not have the full story. Moreover, our political work on local and domestic issues could not be neatly siloed-off from issues abroad in Israel-Palestine. This was something we had to confront.
It wasn’t until we both left our youth programing that we were able to form a more complete view of Israel-Palestine. On our own, we were able to seek out the complex, nuanced education that our institutions did not provide.
What we don’t understand is why an organization that we trusted, that gave us so much, including each other, and laid a foundation for our individual understandings of the world, wouldn’t give us the same respect of teaching us the truth about Israel-Palestine.
It was our shared experiences and connection to Judaism’s social justice values that bonded us. We have since been close friends and chosen family for over 8 years, living together for 6 of those years, and feel thankful to the institutions that brought us together. It was also together that we learned about the gaps in our early education around social justice, and together, we feel it is important to highlight where our upbringings, the places that felt like homes away from home, let us down. You never told us.
This blog post is part of IfNotNow’s #younevertoldme campaign. Previous posts are here and here.

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