By Zane Harbison, NFTY NW Regional CVP
As the Northwest gang landed in Newark, the first thing we noticed was the brutal, horrid, punishing humidity; it had turned our hair into a frizzy mess. We made our way to the bus stop, where we found other NFTYites accompanied by some Kutz staff. The buses hadn’t arrived yet, and we were told they were “on the way and will be here in around 20 minutes” – an hour-and-a-half later, we were on our way to Kutz.
We finally made it to the famed URJ Kutz Camp (a.k.a. “God’s Address”, a.k.a. “the Place Where Heaven and Earth Meet”). I realized that Kutz was the elderly, wrinkly, odd-but-strangely-good-smelling grandparent to its young, wet-behind-the-ears grandchild Camp Kalsman. Kutz also wasn’t as big as I thought it would be; it was hard to believe that 160 other regional leaders from across the nation were going to be staying there with us for NFTY’s annual leadership training institute, Mechina.
By the time we arrived at Kutz, everyone was halfway through dinner. Thankfully, we moved quickly through the check-in process, ate dinner, went to services, headed to a network time, and finally went back to our cabins and crashed. Despite the craziness of Day 1, the Northwest delegation couldn’t help but feel excited for the rest of the event.
The weekend only got wilder. On Day 2, Havdallah was held in a huge gazebo called “the Tea-Tron” (tay-uh trone), which consists of a large stage with a wide, wood panel floor spread in front of it. This year, the Kutz staff decided they were going to start a new tradition; instead of immediately extinguishing the candle into grape juice, they would dip it into a goblet of flammable liquid to symbolize “holding onto the last ‘drop’ of Shabbat”. At the end of the service, Melissa Frey (the Camp Director) picked up the blazing goblet and accidentally splashed some of the liquid on a nearby tablecloth, which caught on fire. She jumped back, but she over corrected and dropped the entire goblet onto the floor, catching part of the stage on fire. Luckily, the rest of the staff was able to extinguish it before any major damage occurred. Right after the last flame was put out, Asher Suloway-Baker came running from behind the stage with a fire extinguisher in his hands (he had inventoried all of the fire extinguishers at Kutz before the event started). Sadly, he was too late to the scene, but still received a congratulatory applause for his efforts.
While there were some dramatic memories at Mechina, there were plenty of good ones; having a conversation about Ben 10 with kids from NFTY-Southwest, doing the Northwest cheer, trying to sing in friendship circle after I had lost my voice, or winning Ruach Bonanza (a huge competition among the regions where each performs a skit or dance). The beit midrash we had on Sunday was the most enlightening experience I had the entire weekend. In this program, participants got the chance to visit three stations. At each of them, the presenter taught us how to improve our tangible leadership skills. That’s what stuck out to me in this beit midrash – the lessons we were being taught were skills we could actively use in the real world. I visited one about commanding a room, another about using enthusiasm to connect with your audience, and another on.
The Northwest delegation and I are all so, so, so excited to bring what we learned back to the region, and can’t wait to work with you all this next year. Mechina was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, and I wish I had more space to write more about it. Accidental Havdallah arson and humidity from hell aside, as Lila Greene says, “Kutz is home”, and after this weekend I agree. If you ever have questions about either the event or Kutz, I’d love to talk – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come home to Kutz next year. Until next time, stay #northblessed!