Celia Tedde is the NFTY SOCAL RCVP and the NFTY RCVP-elect. Below is a transcript of her D’var Torah, which was read at NFTY SoCal’s Leadership Kallah on March 20th, 2015.
Shabbat Shalom NFTY SOCAL and Congregation Beth Israel! I feel truly honored to see my congregation and my region join together to create our prayer community tonight. I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a few people who made our service possible. Thank you to all of the Beth Israel community for opening your doors to NFTY SOCAL. We are so excited to be joining you for this Shabbat weekend. Another huge thank you to Rabbi Berk, Rabbi Cantor Bernstein, and Rabbi Gerson for your help and guidance throughout the service planning process, and thank you to the NFTY and Beth Israel musicians for adding your beautiful music to our prayer tonight.
“Leadership.” This word, the theme of our weekend together, has been tossed around a lot lately. But more often than not, we talk about leadership as some big, vague concept and rarely actually talk about the meaning behind it. One of my favorite Jewish teachings talks a little bit about the meaning of leadership:
“Da lifnei mi atah omeid. Know before whom you stand.”
This teaching, from variation of a sentence in Talmud, never actually mentions leadership. But what it does mention is something so integral to being a leader. To explain this, let’s look at the word before as it’s used in the quote:
“Da lifnei mi atah omeid. Know before whom you stand.”
The word “before” actually has a double meaning here. In one meaning it talks about recognizing the future generations, or those who came before you. In the other, it means the people who are in front of you who will become the leaders of the present and future.
I like to think of this in terms of driving a car. To pull out of your parking spot and start on your journey, you must look out your rear view and side mirrors (or one of those fancy backup cameras if you have one of the newer cars).
Then you put your car in forward drive. But if you don’t change your focus and only keep looking behind you, you’ll likely crash your car. You have to start looking in front of you, glancing back occasionally to make safe lane changes and be aware of cars behind you.
You must first look behind you to see all of the things that came before you began your journey, and then you drive forward to look at the road before you.
As leaders, we often have a tendency to focus only on one of these “befores”. We become so fixated on the past that we forget to look towards the future, or we are so focused on moving forward that we forget the generations that paved the way to get us to that point.
The real test of leadership is being able to recognize both “befores”, simultaneously looking both at what has come before you and to what is before you. To be a leader is to learn from the past and look towards the people who are in front of you, recognizing the future generations and leaders who will keep your legacy moving forward.
This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a meeting of NFTY and Kutz Leadership at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. Throughout the weekend, we talked about the gifts each person brings to our Jewish community, the foundation the generations before us have provided, and the impact that future generations will have on our movement.
I spent a lot of time this weekend reflecting on my personal NFTY journey, which started here at Beth Israel. My first event in NFTY SOCAL started a little differently than others when one day before the event, I received a call from my advisor that there had been an opening to go to LTI. The very next day, I hopped on the bus from Temple Solel and began the journey of a lifetime. Freshman Celia who barely even knew what NFTY was could never have dreamed of standing here speaking to you all today or spending the weekend in New York with past, present, and future NFTY leadership.
The reason that I am here tonight, though, is because I had people who recognized me as a leader in the community. They didn’t see me as “just some kid”, they saw my potential even before I even knew it myself. They looked before them and found me, and for that I am so grateful.
Now as we begin to conclude our year together, we take this weekend to recognizing the leaders in NFTY SOCAL who will continue our legacy once we graduate. We get the opportunity to spend four amazing years building our community, and when our time as a high school student in NFTY is over, we leave knowing that our region is in great hands. That is true leadership: being able to use the foundation of the past to making a difference in the present, and preparing for the future.
And to the Beth Israel congregants: our members and volunteers are the ones who build our community and make events like this possible. You continue Judaism and Jewish youth programming all year long and provide a place where BITY and NFTY teens can come and feel welcomed. You are more than just a host to us, you are part of our NFTY community.
I’d like to leave you with one final thought: A leader is someone who makes the community whole. Without each one of you here tonight, our Shabbat would not be the same. We need you, because you are the present and future of our movement. Each one of you here tonight is a leader.
“Da lifnei mi atah omeid”, “Know before whom you stand”. I feel so fortunate to be standing in front of each and every one of you. I see here leaders who will and already have made major impacts in their communities. Shabbat Shalom.