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GUCIpalooza: the first in-person NFTY regional event since COVID-19 began. For the past two years, NFTY-Ohio Valley has organized virtual programming to try and keep NFTY thriving. With the loss of attendance and struggle to keep up in the face of a pandemic, it was questionable what the future of NFTY would hold. However, this past weekend proves that Ohio Valley’s community has stayed strong; its community has persisted, despite years of separation by distance. With almost 100 teens in attendance, I believe our community of Jewish teens is closer than ever. Whether it was the GUCI magic or spirit of the NFTY cheer, GUCIpalooza truly brought Ohio Valley back together again.

The event kicked off with a mixer programmed to build teamwork among attendees. Teens from Ohio Valley, Missouri Valley, and Michigan worked together to pass a hula hoop through a circle of their linked hands. Yes, this is a great ice breaker game, but showed the persistence and determination NFTY has obtained over the past years. Then came Shabbat. Singing and laughing filled the painted walls of the Chadar Ochel, allowing teens to reminisce on past summers at GUCI, as well as NFTY events like Midwest Mesibah. Followed by Maccabiah and an evening program, it was clear that this event would be one for the books.

The rest of the weekend brought services, Israeli dancing, social action, scavenger hunts, friendship circle, a Dan Nichols concert, and much more. It was heartening to see so many smiling faces back together again. One of my favorite things about NFTY is the inclusivity it holds. This past weekend, I saw so many frequent attendees go up to newer members and introduce themselves. Not only does this make new members feel welcome, it creates a generation of NFTYites to pass down traditions to the next.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who made GUCIpalooza possible. Regional and city advisors, GUCI staff, and teens on the regional boards, thank you for your hard work in making this weekend a success. If you attended GUCIpalooza, spread the word about NFTY and how amazing it is! We’ll see you next year.

Your NFTY-OV Communications Vice President,

Sienna Shapiro