Youth group or homecoming? Some students have to choose due to scheduling challenges

A player gives a pre-game speech at the annual basketball game of the NFTY convention in Schwayder Camp, Colo. This year, many Jewish high schoolers had to choose between attending their school’s homecoming dance or going to the NFTY convention.

By Katie Silver, Freshman, Ladue High School

The North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) kickoff is an event where high schoolers come from across the Midwest to participate in a variety of workshops, celebrate Shabbat and sing and dance together as a community. Taking place over the weekend of Oct. 5-7 at Shwayder Camp, Colo., this year’s event coincided with many homecoming dances within the Missouri Valley, leading to a difficult choice for teens: attend the NFTY kickoff weekend or their school’s homecoming events. 

“Kickoff is always first — this is the latest in the year we’ve had kickoff, mostly because the Jewish holidays (were) so early this year,” said Beth Lipshutz, the NFTY-MV Director of Youth Engagement. “Scheduling is the hardest part because there is always a dance, band competition, volleyball tournament, etc.”

Although Lipshutz attempted to coordinate the NFTY kickoff around significant school year events, the different district events were frequently unavailable when she was working on the schedule. Since homecoming dances occur nearly every week in different parts of the region, there are few ways to avoid a conflict with all of the dances.

Unless it is a Jewish holiday, it is unlikely that people are all going to be available. Freshman Aidan Dougan of Ladue Horton Watkins High School, a member of the Freshman Board of NFTY, decided to attend his homecoming rather than the kickoff event. Aidan is not alone in his decision. Many Jewish teens chose homecoming because of their commitments involving school dances and after-school activities. 

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“I play in pep-band at my school, so I have to go to the homecoming football game,” Aidan said. “[Yet] Jewish events have more of my people. I feel a larger sense of belonging with the community and with NFTY kids.”

NFTY events, such as its kickoff, also provide unique spiritual opportunities for Jewish teens while secular activities like homecoming can be louder and more party-like. Julian Albright, a senior at University City High School and the Regional Membership Vice President for NFTY Missouri Valley, takes this factor into account when recruiting new members.

“I go to school with a lot of my friends, and NFTY is significant, so I get to think about a lot of new ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise,” Julian said.

At NFTY, Julian’s job is to recruit teens and help promote events like the NFTY Kickoff. He recognizes that whether it is Shabbat or Friday night football, NFTY or a school social event, making hard choices is something all teens struggle with during the school year.

“The whole thing is about getting people to come to events and programming,” Julian said. “I understand that teens have commitments, but I also think that Judaism is an important part of our lives. You might need to put NFTY over something else to figure out that you really love it. It can be difficult to work that kind of stuff into our schedules, but it’s definitely worth it if you do.”