BBYO's Narrative History: 1923-2011
The first chapter of the Aleph Zadik Aleph was formed in 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska. With guidance from advisor Sam Beber, AZA was declared an international organization on May 3, 1924. As chapters began to form throughout the United States and in Canada, International Conventions were held and International Officers elected. In 1925, AZA was adopted by B’nai B’rith International as its official youth program.
By the 10th anniversary of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, over one hundred chapters existed in North America. The first overseas chapter of AZA was founded in 1936 in Bulgaria, and chapters followed shortly after in England and in what was then Palestine. The first professional field staff members were hired to work with AZA chapters around North America.
During World War II, the Aleph Zadik Aleph sold more than $6 million in war bonds and committed countless human resources to the war effort. Over 10,000 Alephs in good standing at the time and alumni fought for the Allies in World War II with approximately 290 sacrificing their lives. Because the war pulled so many AZA members away from their home communities, the minimum age for membership was lowered to fourteen. The B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG) was officially established in 1944 and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) was born as the umbrella over both groups. The B’nai B’rith Youth Commission was established as BBYO’s governing body.
Camp B’nai B’rith opened in Starlight, Pennsylvania, in 1954 and became home to AZA International Convention and other BBYO summer programs. Many of BBYO’s International Programs were established during this time period, including the International Leadership Training Conference, Kallah, and the Israel Summer Institute.
The 1960’s saw continued growth for the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the establishment of Noar L’Noar as BBYO’s first partner in Israel.
The Aleph Zadik Aleph celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1974. B’nai B’rith Beber Camp was opened in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, in 1977 and the first Chapter Leadership Training Conference was held there that summer. Camp B’nai B’rith in Pennsylvania was rededicated as Perlman Camp in honor of BBG’s organizer, Anita Perlman.
BBYO’s international presence increased with the establishment of chapters in France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Austria. At the same time, districts (which had previously encompassed several regions) were disbanded in North America. Teen Connection (now BBYO Connect) was also established during this time to involve middle school-aged Jewish youth. BBYO partnered with the March of the Living upon its establishment in 1988, sending the largest delegation on the first trip.
The Chapter Leadership Training Conference expanded significantly, becoming the foundation of the organization’s training program. The Max F. Baer Spirit Gavel was established as an annual award to the most spirited region at International Convention. The International Leadership Study in Israel was established, and the AZAA Basketball Tournament was renewed after years of dormancy. The organization’s international headquarters moved locations for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Today and into Tomorrow
Just after the turn of the new millennium, many changes for the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization occurred. Our Order became a legally independent entity from B’nai B’rith International in 2002 and BBYO, Inc. was established as its official new name. Several leaders from the Jewish community, such as key Jewish philanthropists, BBYO alumni, Jewish Federation leadership, and BBYO’s International Teen Presidents (the Grand Aleph Godol and International N’siah), formed a new Board of Directors to assume governance over BBYO.
While traditional summer programs such as CLTC, ILTC and Kallah continue to be offered, a new slate of Israel trips and community service programs grew extensively. In 2004, BBYO launched its international teen travel program, now called BBYO Passport, and restored its historical International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI). The organization also created the BBYO Panim Institute, which offers premiere service learning opportunities open to members and non-members of BBYO. During this time, International Convention also left Camp Perlman for the first time in 50 years and convened at Camp Ramah Darom outside of Atlanta, GA in February 2006, and has been held in a different location every year since. Keeping with Aleph Zadik Aleph’s mission to provide a meaningful experience to Jewish teens of all ages, BBYO’s 6th-8th grade experience, now known as BBYO Connect, was reestablished in the 2007-2008 programming year. BBYO Connect positions BBYO as a ‘rite of passage’ for pre-high school teens, while promoting Jewish community involvement from pre-bar/bat mitzvah through the high school years.
In recent years, BBYO and the Aleph Zadik Aleph have encouraged our members to become involved with community service both in and out of the Jewish community. The 85th/65th (2008 – 2009) International Boards introduced Stand UP - BBYO’s service, philanthropy, and advocacy campaign. The 86th/66th (2010-2011) Executive Body ignited a renaissance of globalization – reconnecting BBYO worldwide and establishing new partnerships with twenty Jewish teen communities across the globe. The 2010-2011 programming year also yielded the introduction of “Speak UP for Israel”, BBYO’s campaign for Israel education and advocacy.
The first decade of the twenty-first century redefined our Order. Sam Beber’s dream to provide a meaningful experience to Jewish teens has spread across the world and shows no signs of slowing down.