Alex Kress is the NFTY SOCAL Regional Rabbinic Intern and a fourth year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR.
Last summer, I discovered an incredible opportunity to become NFTY Southern California’s Regional Rabbinic Intern. As an alumnus of NFTY Pennsylvania Area, NFTY in Israel, NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, URJ Camp Harlam and the URJ Kutz Camp, I was elated!
Working directly with the organization that landed me at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) was a no-brainer. I eagerly accepted the new leadership position and the chance to be NFTY SOCAL’s first Rabbinic Intern.
My role comes with a few intrinsic responsibilities. I mentor our teen leaders in program development, providing resources to ground our programs in Judaism. I help build the themes and coordinate the logistics of services. And I provide Jewish teachings and reminders during our board meetings and debriefs. But these are obvious responsibilities for a Rabbinic Intern in the NFTY world.
My role also yielded a unique collaboration between NFTY SOCAL and HUC-JIR, uncovering a shared goal—sustaining Jewish leadership in Southern California, for both teens and adults. To achieve this, I work closely with Dr. Madelyn Katz, the Associate Dean of HUC-JIR.
Dr. Katz explains, “After years of watching NFTY SOCAL in action and imagining how advantageous it would be to connect it with HUC-JIR, I am thrilled to witness the impact that our work in leadership is having. This partnership is a win-win-win for NFTY, for HUC and for the Reform Movement.”
Our teen leadership program is grounded in non-board leadership roles at every event. At our last event, over 20% of our participants stepped into leadership roles—more than 50 teens. Those leaders run programs, facilitate mixers and lead t’filot.
These opportunities enable teens to build skills and define their leadership style in a safe environment. By having the chance to flex their leadership muscles, our goal is for teen leadership to radiate from the epicenter of NFTY SOCAL events, creating a pipeline of leadership into our congregations, camps and communities. Which leads us to our second constituency—youth professionals.
To support the professional growth of over 50 youth professionals at every event, I create and organize a substantial professional development curriculum. This cohort experience embodies the Talmudic teaching, “Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.”
Through a meaningful exchange of learning and ideas, we strengthen the relationships between our youth professionals and Reform Movement leaders. In doing so, we foster a safe environment in which our adult leaders can grow personally and professionally to better serve our teens.
Through our partnership with HUC-JIR, we have been able to dedicate resources to NFTY SOCAL’s leadership development. We are creating a new paradigm of engagement that extends far beyond our weekend events. At the end of this year, Dr. Katz and I will assess this development and create a report detailing our ideas for cultivating successful leadership throughout NFTY.
Our leadership program provides independent learning opportunities for teens and adults at events, but our long-term goal is for those two constituencies to bring their learning experiences together. As a result, NFTY SOCAL teens and adults are growing, innovating and leading—transforming existing membership into invested leadership.
Taking the vast resources I’ve acquired at HUC-JIR, and applying it to NFTY SOCAL programs, services, professional development and leadership cultivation is incredibly rewarding. Learning from innovative, imaginative NFTY SOCAL teen leaders is even more rewarding. However, the thing I am most proud of is the powerful, leadership paradigm we have created in NFTY SOCAL.
My NFTY experiences led me to HUC-JIR. And HUC-JIR led me back to NFTY. Leadership is the new membership. And I am a leader in NFTY SOCAL.