Check out Rabbi Gurvis’ “Ten Minutes of Torah” written for the URJ – 12/17/15

 

From Generation to Generation: Kindling Light Among Our Youth

This fall, the afternoons seemed darker than I remember. Family and friends also noticed that on some days, sundown seemed to come along as early as 3:30 or 4 p.m. On Thanksgiving, I even said, “We’re still three weeks from the equinox. Why does it seem so dark?”

I began to wonder if perhaps world events – terror attacks in Israel and Paris, ISIS’s increasing presence, ongoing racial tensions across our country, gun violence seemingly everywhere – and the unending stream of news about all the brokenness in our world were impacting my perception of daylight.

Earlier in the season, though – before Thanksgiving and long before Hanukkah – I received a powerful reminder of an important source of light in our midst, one that has burned brightly for me since my teenage years.

In mid-November, led by our high school youth group, Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, hosted our NFTY region’s fall conclave. That weekend, nearly 350 teens from across New England traveled to our town for the event, which included worship, socializing, and programming designed to build and nurture participants’ Jewish identities.

What joy I experienced during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening, when I had a rare opportunity to simply sit as a member of the congregation. With my eyes closed, I allowed the voices of those teens to carry me into the holiness of Shabbat. Worshipping together with our congregation and teens from across the region was not only a balm for my soul, but also a powerful Shabbat experience. How different from just a week earlier, when Shabbat had arrived with news of the attacks in Paris, robbing me of any Shabbat spirit or joy.

I’ll admit that having NFTY teens in the house reminded me of what an important role NFTY had played during my own teen years and beyond. To this day, in fact, some of my closest friends are those from my time in NFTY and in our local group, LIFTY, on Long Island. (Thinking back, though, I cannot recall any event I attended as a teen that numbered nearly 350 participants!)

The conclave also provided me with no small measure of delight as I watched my youngest son, Jacob, among the leaders of the weekend’s activities. Like mine, his life has been indelibly shaped over time by the people he has met in our local youth group, at URJ Eisner Camp, and at numerous NFTY programs in which he has participated.

If I ever needed a reminder about the value of engaging our youth (and I didn’t!), it would have been easily quelled by the spirit, intellect, joy, and energy I witnessed among those teens. Again and again over the course of that weekend, I found myself trying to absorb their joy, their energy, their spirit – the light they continually bring to our midst.

Hanukkah candles give us but eight nights of light. By contrast, the flames we kindle in the hearts and souls of our youth are not set by the calendar nor determined by the season. They are kept ablaze by the energy, insights, and relationships young people build, nurture, and share in these experiences with their peers. The power of our congregations, together with our movement’s youth programs, to kindle light that will be spread by our young people is more intense than we can imagine.

During that November weekend, the hundreds of teens gathered in our midst reminded me just how much our youth see the world as it is. Their involvement with NFTY encourages them to turn their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls toward making it the world it can be.

To them, to the generations of leaders who continue to guide and mold our movement’s youth, instilling a commitment to Jewish values and vibrant Jewish living deep within them, as well as to the URJ, whose efforts complement the work of NFTY groups throughout North America, I say, “Yasher koach!” (“May your strength be firm!” or, idiomatically, “Good job!”) and “Don’t let the light go out!”

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Rabbi Eric Gurvis became senior rabbi of Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, in July 1999. His rabbinic career spans more than 30 years, including synagogues in New York City, Jackson, MS, and Teaneck, N.J., before coming to Temple Shalom. Rabbi Gurvis is a recognized leader of youth and camping programs. He served as dean of faculty and chairperson of the education committee for the URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps from 1995-2011 and as chairperson of the committee on youth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1986-1993. Rabbi Gurvis has served on the national board of ARZA(Association of Reform Zionists of America) and theCommission on Social Action. He has been active in interfaith affairs, having served as president of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, founding chairperson of the Jackson Clergy Network, and as first chairperson of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Bergen and North Hudson Counties’ task force on Inter Group Relations. He served as president of the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association from 2009 to 2013.

 

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