My 14-year-old son Nathan came home from NFTY Chicago Area Region (CAR)’s Junior youth-group retreat with Congregation Beth Am at OSRUI on Sunday and uncharacteristically, asked me if I would be home for dinner that night. I had been working all day, and I had the JUF event that evening. I told him I’d be back for about 30 minutes and then I would need to leave again.
When I got home that afternoon, he shot down the stairs. “Hi Mom!” He said.
“Hi Nathan, how was your retreat?”
“Well Mom, it was… pretty great!”
“The theme of the retreat was on identity.”
“Oh, what do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, it was on our identity and what we might discover about ourselves. You know, who we are, what is important to us… that kinda thing.”
“Oh. Ok Nathan, What did ya learn?”
“I learned that being Jewish is very important to me.” He nods his head as if to agree with his statement and continues, “I never knew how important it was to me before this retreat.”
This kid lives with a rabbi. He goes to a conservative Jewish Day School, he went to Congregation Beth Am’s Sunday School, he celebrates every holiday and then some, keeps kosher-style and wears a kippah every day at school. He goes to Jewish camp, he has been to Israel three times and yet, all it took was one 2 ½ day youth group retreat for him to realize how important Judaism is to him??!!
To find a place in this world is a treasure. To feel that something matters in this world is a gift. To sense that one is a part of something far greater than oneself might offer us purpose in life. In the book of Proverbs we read, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.”
In this world of increasing hostility and hatred against us, in this age where we are bombarded with fake news, social media campaigns and given endless opportunities to ‘disconnect’ from reality while connecting to the false gods of cell phones, Instagram, Facebook, and video games, it is easy to feel lost, to feel invisible and alone.
When given a chance to put the phone and noise of the week away and play, have a genuine conversation, and be with others at camp, in nature, at a youth group event is a gift beyond measure.
I hope Nathan’s 2 ½ days at NFTY will last a lifetime, but just to be sure, I am signing him up for the next youth group retreat in April.
May we be blessed for a week of joy and shalom.
Rabbi Lisa Bellows
Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Am
Join Nathan next month at NFTY-CAR Kolbo, our spring end-of-year event (April 12-14 at OSRUI). Kolbo is open to ALL Jewish 8th-12th graders!