NFTY TOR’s Winter Conclave & Nashir Weekend 2019 was much more than just another NFTY event. It was, for some, closure. Originally Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism was supposed to host the weekend in Houston Texas in October of 2017. However, Hurricane Harvey had a different idea for our city, our community and our congregation. While our synagogue was spared the majority of our participants and housing families were not.

Homes across Houston were devastated. One family had so much water in their home, the island in their kitchen was ripped from the ground and set on its side. People had to take small boats to get in and out of their neighborhood. Some had to swim with the only possessions they could carry in a backpack on top of their heads. Many families on the West side were rescued in the middle of the night by helicopter. Imagine for just a few minutes what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like. These images NEVER leave your mind. Many people in Houston get anxious when it rains, or when a storm rolls in. Some have moved away from Houston, some have moved away from their home and will not return, others are rebuilding and are still waiting to move “home”.

HOUSTY was given a chance at some closure and we did not disappoint! Our event was honorably named, “Force of Nature”. Because just like the post office, come rain or shine or sleet or hail, we will deliver. The HOUSTY teens took the programming that we had written from prior year and hit a home run with it. “Force of Nature” was the perfect balance of honoring the total devastation that a natural disaster brings and showing how strong we are as a community. We closed the chapter on the lingering program writes ups that never got finished. Last year the theme was Noah’s ark. Kind of a funny thing when you look at what kept us from hosting conclave in the first place. This year the theme was Tu B’shevat. Another irony in that we celebrated the birthday of the trees. A sign of birth, growth and our beloved Torah. It cannot go unnoticed that these two Torah portions played a role in this chapter of our lives.

Our Shabbat stroll along a bayou that was underwater for weeks was a perfect backdrop for healing. We walked behind, alongside and in front of the devastation and came out at the end with a beautiful day, wonderful sunshine warming our faces and a day spent outdoors enjoying one another’s’ company and time.

“My favorite part of the weekend was the nature walk and service through part of buffalo bayou park. I got to hang out with my friends, practice my faith, and be in nature. It combined a few of the important things in my life in a meaningful and great way!”- Sophie Lazear, 12th grade HOUSTY member

In conjunction with Winter Conclave, HCRJ also hosted Nashir Texas, one of three of NFTY’s songleading institutes hosted across the country. Over 20 talented and passionate teens opted into intensive songleading training programming throughout the weekend with Artist-in-Residence, Alan Goodis, and worked on their skills to teach and lead prayer and music for kids and communities of all ages.

“The programming at Nashir was amazing! I feel so much stronger as a songleader after just one day of learning… led by the amazing Alan Goodis and Joel Swedlove. I learned how to be successful in teaching songs and songleading for all ages.” –10th grade Nashir participant

“This weekend at Winter Conclave and Nashir was one of the best weekends I have had in a long time—from being at a camp event with all my camp friends to meeting new people and getting to learn so much about songleading. When camp is your favorite place, a NFTY experience just makes you so happy since you only get to be at camp for 3 weeks out of a whole year.”- Drew Beckelman, 9th grade HOUSTY member

At times, we still cry over the events of the past and that is alright. But for the teens and families of HCRJ, we stood up, stood straight and closed the door on the events of the past. We proved that we can struggle with adversity, lift each other up and move on. That is what we have learned all along about ourselves isn’t it? We are all “Forces of Nature.”

Looking Ahead to NFTY Convention

Winter Conclave was the perfect start to our second semester and there is more excitement to come. In just one week, NFTY-TOR will gather with the largest delegation in our region’s history in Dallas for NFTY Convention. Reform Jewish teens will gather from across North America to connect with each other, pray, dance, and sing together. Teens will elect new leadership for the movement, explore Dallas, and participate in a wide variety of workshops to develop their leadership skills and explore their passions. With the keynote address by teen activist and March for Our Lives Co-Founder, David Hogg, NFTY teens will explore how they are the current and future change makers of our world. It will be an unforgettable weekend!

Michelle Renfrow is the HOUSTY advisor at Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism.
Mindy Lee is the NFTY Texas Oklahoma Regional Director.