Blog  Dancing My Way Into NFTY

Dancing My Way Into NFTY

by Sarah Ruben, OSRUI and NFTY alum

I am a third-generation NFTYite and URJ camper, so it was a given that once I was old enough, I, too, would participate in NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement. When the time came for my first regional event, however, despite my familiarity with NFTY and my excitement at finally being a part of it, I was shy and nervous.

Until the dance session. When it was announced, I perked up, excited by the idea of doing something I’d been doing since childhood.

An energetic and eccentric young man – let’s face it, we were all somewhat eccentric back then –introduced himself and the session, explaining that we were about to start “Israeli Folk Dancing,” something we would do together at every NFTY-NEL (Northeast Lakes) regional event. Often referred to in Hebrew as rikudei am, or simply Israeli dance, it began in the 1920s as part of an effort to cultivate an Israeli national culture and to celebrate a return to the Jewish homeland. Since then, thousands of dances have been choreographed to Hebrew and popular Israeli music. Familiar with Israeli folk dancing from my summers at the URJ camp, OSRUI, and from a range of other experiences, I was eager to participate in something that was comfortable and beloved. The young man began teaching a dance and as I danced, holding hands with the people next to me and immersing myself in the steps, my anxiety faded away. Looking back, I realize that by the time I left the dance session, I was much more comfortable and confident than when it began.

A few months later – as the time approached for the next year’s regional leaders to be selected – I overheard one of my acquaintances ask another about who might be a new dance leader. I’ll never know if I was meant to overhear those comments, but I spoke up, expressing a strong desire to facilitate Israeli dancing, and highlighted my qualifications, including familiarity with a repertoire of Israeli folk dances and past experience as an assistant dance teacher at my ballet studio. With my acquaintances’ encouragement, at the next regional event, I auditioned for and was appointed as one of the regional dance leaders.

That year as a dance leader set me on a leadership path within NFTY that culminated in a year on the NFTY North American Board as the Programming Vice President. To this day, I don’t know if I would have forayed into official leadership positions without that prompting or the opportunity to connect through dance.

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