North American Federation of Temple Youth

North American Federation of Temple Youth
North American Federation of Temple Youth

The NFTY logo. This basic form has been in use for decades.
Abbreviation NFTY
Formation 1939
Type Youth Organization
Purpose/focus Religious
Headquarters New York, NY
Location 633 Third Avenue, 7th Floor New York, NY 10017
Region served North America
Membership 8,500
Parent organization URJ
Affiliations Reform Judaism

The North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) is the organized youth movement of Reform Judaism in North America. Funded and supported by the Union for Reform Judaism, NFTY exists to supplement and support Reform youth groups at the synagogue level. About 750 local youth groups affiliate themselves with the organization, comprising over 8,500 youth members.

NFTY is the North American branch of Netzer Olami, the worldwide Progressive Zionist Youth movement. This relationship was formalized at the biennial NFTY Convention in Los Angeles, California in February 2005.



Founded on January 15, 1939 by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now called the Union for Reform Judaism), the then-titled National Federation of Temple Youth was a program to encourage college students to engage in synagogue life.[1] NFTY was originally focused in three regions - New York, Chicago, and Pennsylvania; it soon expanded to all areas of the UAHC.[2] The first national officers were: Richard Bluestein, president; Bernard Sang, first vice president; Lewis Held, second vice president; Daniel Miller, third vice president; Lenore Cohn, secretary. The executive committee of NFTY met in June 1939 in New York and discussed college activities, publications and social justice while also confirming cooperation with the UAHC as an affiliate and to cooperate with the National Conference for Community and Justice in interfaith work.[3] The next convention was February 1940 in Chicago with former President Hoover as a Speaker.[4] National conventions continued every two years until 1948 and the organization began to focus on High School aged students.

In 1951, NFTY began Jewish summer camping in the newly purchased facility in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin later called the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp (or OSRUI). In 1964, the Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York became NFTY's North American leadership camp and the site of North American board meetings.[5] The successful Jewish camping movement expanded under the UAHC/URJ and NFTY to Jewish camps around the United States.[6]

In the 1950s, NFTY began to focus on social action and mitzvah themes, capitalizing on the vision, ideals, and energy of teenagers to help transform the world. Local, regional, and national social action efforts were commonplace on issues from the releases of Russian Jews to the fight against poverty to hunger. Mitzvah Corps groups were established in many regions.

In 1961, NFTY began Israel programming with the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) High School semester in Israel. NFTY summer trips to Israel, often attended between sophomore and junior years of high school have been attended by thousands of Reform Jewish teenagers. Trips to Europe, mitzvah trips to locations such as Puerto Rico and Mexico, and archaeological digs have also been sponsored by NFTY in recent decades.

In 1983, NFTY reintroduced the NFTY Convention in Washington, DC. Every other year on President's Day weekend, hundreds to thousands of Reform Jewish teenagers gather for study, prayer, music, and socializing in a major North American city. A youth advisor's professional training conference was added to run concurrently in 1999 with a youth clergy track added in 2001. Convention typically alternates between the East and West coast.

In the late 1980s at Mechina, a leadership training and policy setting gathering of the NFTY General Board, NFTY officially recognized itself as a North American movement, in response to a growing and influential Canadian population. To this day, the movement still works to get all of its membership, and more importantly, outside press to correctly identify the movement and its various events, i.e. NFTY Convention as opposed to National Convention and North American Executive and General Boards as opposed to National Board.

From the very beginning, the work of NFTY's Youth Leadership has been supported by the adult Professional Staff of NFTY and the Union for Reform Judaism. Directors of NFTY include Rabbi Sam Cook (1945–1967), Rabbi Hank Skirball (1962–1971), Rabbi Allan Smith (1983–2002), Rabbi Michael Mellen (2005-2011).[7] Currently, Subie Banaszynski is the interim Director of NFTY. Melissa Frey is the Associate Director of NFTY and the Director of the URJ's Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. Beth Avner is the NFTY Director of Education and Special Projects.

Today, NFTY has over 450 local youth groups in 19 regions in the United States and Canada with over 150 regional events a year. Past NFTYites and NFTY leadership [8] can be found as numerous rabbis, cantors, educators, social workers, synagogue leaders, and active Reform Jews across the world. For example, Eric Yoffie, recent President of the URJ, was a member of NFTY-Northeast and served as their regional president in 1968.


Music has been at the heart of NFTY since its beginnings. In NFTY's early years, traditional Jewish and Yiddish melodies were common as well as spirituals such as "Elijah Rock". In the 1950s, high school aged students sang songs composed by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer to promote social consciousness in young people, such as "Close Your Eyes and Point Your Finger" and "It Could Be a Wonderful World" and learned the dance steps and music then popular on Israeli kibutzim such as the water dance ("Mayim, Mayim"). In the 1960s, folk music became dominants with guitar-led teenagers leading the songs of Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bob Dylan, among others, as well as original compositions not usually recorded for posterity. Following the Six-Day War in Israel, a surge of Zionism in Jewish life pushed Hebrew, Israeli, Chasidic, and liturgically based songs to the forefront. The Mi Chamocha hymn, for example, was set by NFTY participants to the melody of Bob Marley's Redemption Song. Similarly, the traditional Adon Olam can be set to nearly any melody for any situation.

In 1968, Michael Isaacson introduced a NFTY Folk Service at the Kutz Camp demonstrating the growing trend of participatory, informal, mixed Hebrew/English services and songsessions that have remained the hallmark of a NFTY service. This style of American-born Jewish music came to be known as "American Nusach."

As the number of original compositions, often usually traditional Hebrew prayers for lyrics, became widespread, the first NFTY album, "Songs NFTY Sings" was produced for about $100 at the then-UAHC Kutz Camp. It contained eight contemporary Jewish folk pieces and 10 songs from Isaacson's Folk Service. The album, produced by Loui Dobin, now the director of Greene Family Camp, was quickly followed by 5 more albums: "Shiru Shir Chadash" (1973), "Ten Shabbat V'Ten Shalom (Give Us Sabbath and Give Us Peace)" (1974), "Eit Hazmir, The Time of Singing" (1977), and "nfty at 40: this is very good" (1980). In 1989, "Fifty Years in the Making 1939-1989" was released with new music and retrospective hits. The 7 albums are often also referred to as "NFTY I," "NFTY II," "NFTY III," and so on.

In recent years, as individual artists, many of them former NFTYites themselves, found it easier to produce their own solo-albums, NFTY has shied away from producing records. However, in 2003 released all of the original 7 albums on compact disc in the 5-disc set "The Complete NFTY Recordings 1972-1989". At recent NFTY Conventions, NFTY has highlighted some contemporary artists and recordings on CD releases "Ruach 5761," "Ruach 5763,", "'Ruach' '5765"which focused on music from and about Israel, "'Ruach 5767,'" "Ruach 5769," and most recently, "Ruach 5771,"

Performers popular within NFTY include Debbie Friedman, Kol B'Seder, Ramie and Merri Arian, Doug Mishkin, Peri Smilow, Julie Silver, Dan Nichols, Josh Nelson, Bryan Zive, Chana Rothman Noam Katz, and Rick Recht.


NFTY is divided into three levels: Temple Youth Group (TYG), Regional, and North American. At each level, authority is divided between elected youth boards and supervisors employed by the URJ or local synagogue. Boards vary widely between youth groups and regions, but typically include positions such as: President, Programming Vice-President, Social Action Vice-President, Religious & Cultural Vice-President, Membership Vice-President, Communications Vice-President, NFTY-Representative, Treasurer, Secretary, Historian, and Grade Level Representatives.

TYG level: Individual youth groups affiliated with Reform congregations are the foundation of NFTY. TYGs are youth-run and offer participants educational, social, and religious programs. Each TYG has a youth group board and an adult advisor appointed by the congregation. The youth group advisor or director is sometimes a volunteer in the congregation, a parent, a part-time staff person, or, in a small, but increasing number of synagogues, a full-time position. While the board structure is at the direction of each group, most are modeled after the regional or North American board.


Regional level: NFTY is currently divided into nineteen regions which hold events to bring together different TYGs based on geographical distribution. For example, NFTY-NE (Northeast), the most populated region, includes 72 TYGs and over 800 members. Each region has an elected executive board, who coordinate the efforts of their TYG counterparts and provide support to regional events. There is also an adult NFTY Regional Advisor, a paid staff position, who supervises the executive board and is a liaison with TYG advisors.

Relations between regions range from friendly "rivalry" to "alliance" and are subject to combinations and divisions that occur due to membership fluctuation. For example:

Until 2001, NFTY-SAR and NFTY-STR comprised one region, known as NFTY-SER (formerly known as SEFTY). The regions still work together to run certain social action projects. Additionally, until 2003/2004 NFTY-NAR (New York Area Region) comprised three regions, NFTY-NYC (New York City, formerly known as CRaFTY), NFTY-LI (Long Island, formerly known as LIFTY), and NFTY-W/F (Westchester/Fairfield and parts of Connecticut, formerly known as WooFTY). Additionally, a 21st region, NFTY-Central New York (formerly known as CNFTY) existed until 1995. In that year, the Central New York region, which included synagogues along the Hudson Valley from Rockland County, N.Y., north to Albany and west to Syracuse, N.Y., was split among the Northeast region, the Northeast Lakes region, and the New Jersey region (formerly known as JFTY).

The current regions are:

  • NFTY-CAR: Chicago Area Region
  • NFTY-CWR: Central West Region
Northern California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Utah.
  • NFTY-GER: Garden-Empire Region
Northern and Central New Jersey and parts of downstate New York.
  • NFTY-MAR: Mid Atlantic Region
Most of Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, West Virginia and parts of Northern North Carolina
NFTY-MAR is split into four subregions: East (Washington, DC and most of the Maryland suburbs), West (Northern Virginia and one congregation in Maryland), North (Baltimore, Delaware, and the surrounding area), and South (North Carolina and Southern Virginia)
  • NFTY-MI: Michigan
  • NFTY-MV: Missouri Valley
Illinois (except Chicago), Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming.
NFTY-MV is split into two Subregions: Western, which comprises Kansas City, MO, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, and SLIID (St. Louis Illinois Iowa District), which comprises Missouri (except for Kansas City), Iowa, and Illinois.
  • NFTY-NAR: New York Area Region
Long Island, New York City, Westhchester and Fairfield County, Connecticut
  • NFTY-NE: Northeast
New York's Greater Capital Region, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and parts of Canada.
  • NFTY-NEL: Northeast Lakes
Around the Great Lakes (both in the US and Canada) including parts of the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and all of Ontario, Canada.
  • NFTY-NO: Northern
Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
  • NFTY-NW: Northwest
It is physically the largest region, spanning Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
  • NFTY-OV: Ohio Valley
Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia
OV is split into two sub-regions, Northern and Southern. The North or "OI" subregion includes all of Indiana and Ohio except for Cincinnati. The South or "KiTOWV" subregion is Cincinnati, most of Kentucky, most of Tennessee and corner of West Virginia
  • NFTY-PAR: Pennsylvania Area Region
All of Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, parts of West Virginia and Binghamton, NY.
  • NFTY-SAR: Southern Area Region
North Florida, Georgia, the South Carolina, Charlotte, NC, Chattanooga, TN and Alabama (except for Birmingham).
  • NFTY-SO: Southern
Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Tennessee, Pensacola, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama
  • NFTY-SoCal: Southern California
From Atascadero to San Diego
  • NFTY-STR: Southern Tropical Region
All of Florida outside of the panhandle, except Pensacola
  • NFTY-SW: Southwest
Las Vegas, Arizona, New Mexico, El Paso
  • NFTY-TOR: Texas-Oklahoma Region
Texas and Oklahoma

North America

North American level: A North American executive board (generally) of recent graduates is elected each year to establish general policy and themes for the organization as a whole. The board currently consists of a President, Programming Vice-President, Social Action Vice-President, Religious & Cultural Vice-President, and Membership & Communications Vice-President.[1] Three North American gatherings are held: NFTY Convention (held every other year and open to all members), Mechina and NFTY Veida, formerly known as Mid-Year Boards, (held in non-Convention years for regional boards).

The North American Board for the year 2011-2012/5771-5772 is as follows:
President - Forrest Yesnes
Programming Vice President - Liza Moskowitz
Social Action Vice President - Avra Bossov
Religious & Cultural Vice President - Austin Zoot
Membership & Communications Vice President - Taylor Lyles [2]


Originally, all NFTY regions were known by short acronyms ending in "FTY" (Federation of Temple Youth) such as LIFTY (Long Island Federation of Temple Youth) or OVFTY (Ohio Valley Federation of Temple Youth). Many synagogue youth groups had similar names based on the name of their city or synagogue.

In 1994, to create greater connection to the North American movement, the names of all NFTY regions became a two- or three- letter region specific abbreviation, preceded by "NFTY-"—thus, LIFTY became NFTY-LI, OVFTY became NFTY-OV, JFTY became known as NFTY-GER (NFTY-Garden Empire Region) and PaFTY (Pennsylvania Federation of Temple Youth) became NFTY-PAR (NFTY-Pennsylvania Area Region). While resisted at first, regions adapted to the new names and sometime began to pronounce the geographic abbreviation. For example, TOFTY (Texas-Oklahoma Federation of Temple Youth) became NFTY-TOR (Texas-Oklahoma Region) and is often called simply "TOR" (pronounced tour). During the conversion, SEFTY became NFTY-SER, and then in 2001 split into two regions: NFTY-SAR (the previous Northern Region of SEFTY/NFTY-SER, plus the Jacksonville and Tallahassee TYGs) and NFTY-STR (the remainder of the Southern Region of SEFTY/NFTY-SER; STR is pronouned "star").

In several regions it is traditional for TYGs to have acronyms that resemble real English or Hebrew words; for example (e)YGOW, PARTY, FROGY, GLTY, SCRUFY, BATY, BISY, ARTSY, STARY, EDJY, SMRTY, TASTY, TECHY, MatehFTY, etc.; however some are just acronyms, for example, SchZFTY. Sometimes these words are very suggestive: DRTY, OARJY, NASTY, TSXY (pronounced "sexy"), and TESTY are prime examples. However, sexual acronyms are meant mostly as jokes and do not reflect on the quality of the TYG. Attempts to change a TYG name to something more suggestive are usually voted down.

NFTY Convention

NFTY Convention is a biennial convention where over 1000 teenagers travel to a hotel and experience 4 days of social, educational, charitable, and religious programming. The conventions also feature competitions in music, art, and oratory. Each convention is held in conjunction with the URJ Youth Workers Conference and a plenary session, or asefah, for regional board members. NFTY Convention is the largest convention of its kind.

Year Location
2011 Dallas, TX
2009 Washington, DC
2007 Philadelphia, PA
2005 Los Angeles, CA
2003 Washington, DC
2001 Los Angeles, CA
1999 Los Angeles, CA
1997 Washington, DC
1995 Washington, DC
1993 New Brunswick, NJ
1991 New Brunswick, NJ
1989 Washington, DC
1987 Washington, DC
1985 Washington, DC
1983 Washington, DC
(no conventions 1949–1982)
1948 Boston, MA

See also


  1. ^ Youth Unit Formed by Hebrew Council; New York Times, January 16, 1939
  2. ^ Temple Youth Conclave to Meet in City Saturday; The Delta Democrat Times, December 26, 1947
  3. ^ To Aid Interfaith Work; New York Times, June 12, 1939
  4. ^ Hoover Proposes Central Africa as haven for Refugees; Syracuse Herald-Journal, February 12, 1940
  5. ^ Jewish Group Buys Camp for Teaching; New York Times, May 10, 1964
  6. ^ "URJ Camps". Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  7. ^ "NFTY Leadership". Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  8. ^ "NFTY Leadership". Retrieved 2009-04-05. 

External links

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