The Inaugural Address of the 91st Grand Aleph Godol, Colin Silverman, and the 71st International N'siah, Lauren Keats
Brother Alephs and Sister B’nai B’rith Girls,
Let us take you back to the beginning. No, not the beginning as we all know it – not specifically about Omaha or San Francisco; not entirely about the 14 brave boys or the vision-forward young women that would ‘lean in’ well in advance of it becoming popular to do so.
So often we recall our beginnings for inspiration; context as to how we as an Order arrived at this moment because of what happened ‘back then’. Generations of Execs – led by many of our presidential predecessors – have admirably launched meetings much like this one that begins tonight with proud recollection of our collective achievements. You know many of them well, and have heard them recited before:
Our raising of millions of dollars for war bonds in the Second World War;
Our early endorsement of the establishment of the Jewish State;
Our frontline participation in the Civil Rights movement;
Our work behind the Iron Curtain to ignite commitment to Jewish life for Soviet refuseniks during the Cold War;
And our work over the last 12 years since independence to revive our movement to the breadth and depth that it has become – open and inviting to any Jewish teen from all streams of Judaism from everywhere on earth.
We have much to be proud of, and our legacies of triumph, impact and continuity inspire us to move forward with intention and optimism. But, not often enough, do we talk about by whom was our global movement launched, who championed these big issues and in whose footsteps we follow to blaze forward our own mark on the world.
AZA and BBG were established by teens. The trajectory of world history has altered course time and again because of the actions of teens. Countries have been born and flourished because of the commitment of teens – we know this most personally when reflecting on the birth story of the State of Israel. Communities have been revived, families have been helped and lives have been saved because of teens.
One of the most commonly shared attributes of any great contributor to humanity resonates with our purpose most: at one point, they were all teens. At one point in their lives they were exactly like us, with as much intellect, potential and imagination as us, and arguably far less resources available to them than at any point up until now. Every great leader of the Jewish People was once a teenager.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “Ever since David slew Goliath, the Jewish People have never known youth to be a barrier to leadership.”
When we talk about the ‘start’ of our Order, the beginnings of AZA and BBG, and all that we as the world’s largest Jewish fraternity and sorority have accomplished, what we should be embracing more than anything else is: all that we know about AZA and BBG, and everything it represents and has achieved, was envisioned and brought to creation by teens – teens just like us. Teens that decided to start something great and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
And our Movement has been inspiring Jewish community, sharing meaningful Jewish experiences and making a difference in the world for hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens for 91 years.
As it always has and as it always will, the Jewish future starts with us.
This year we will pass legislation, amplify campaigns, launch initiatives, elevate experiences and build deeper life-long relationships in ways that project the values of our Orders.
By uniting our individual visions toward one shared purpose, and leveraging one another’s talents and energy, it is through YOU that we will connect the leaders and members of our chapters, councils, regions and countries worldwide to our common goals. BBYO will serve as our unique platform to advance our Movement and the Jewish community forward setting off a chain reaction that sustains and strengthens our People for generations to come. The Jewish world has to innovate, has to embrace diversity, make room for new voices while inspiring a renewed commitment to ancient traditions.
We have to be inclusive of everyone regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, gender identity, socio-economic status, level of Jewish knowledge – whatever the case may be. We need to position the Jewish community as accessible and aspirational – if you identify as a Jew, you are not only welcome, but you are wanted and because we are your family you can do great things here, with us, for us and for the world-at-large. Business as usual is going to have to change – change starts with us.
Our tribe is ancient, our faith is storied and our community has always played a special role in the advancement of society. We are a community of tradition that yes, is interdependent and interconnected across geographies and generations, but also spans timelines of human history. The way in which we exist today exceeds any of our ancestors’ wildest dreams and we have every intention of continuing to thrive. We have to make Jewish life exciting and Jewish learning compelling. We have to make embracing one’s Jewish identity and identifying as a Jew a point of pride. We have to ensure that we’re a network that respects one another, supports and values one another – tradition starts with us.
As we begin our work together, and make choices that will impact the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish youth around the world, it is important that we remember how we arrived to this place. Our peers elected us because they trusted our visions. They saw us as role models that they wanted to respect and emulate. They believed that we could bring out the very best in everyone. We must remember that the opportunity we have before us and the commitment we have to those that empowered us runs deeper and represents so much more than any other ‘association’ that we could otherwise be a part of – accountability, role modeling and our Movement’s vibrancy starts with us.
Welcome to our International August Executives Conference; welcome to the next chapter of BBYO and Jewish history. Over the next four days, we will launch the new program year. As a team, we will work together to reach and exceed our goals making the 92nd year of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the 72nd year of the B’nai B’rith Girls memorable, fun and legendary. We need you focused, eager and creative. The enthusiasm we build here needs to transcend and reach every corner of our fraternity and sorority the world over. Together we will do great things.
This is the A-Team. We’re each other’s tools, one another’s thought partners, sounding boards and co-innovators. You’ll be the ones launching new chapters, reviving chapters and extending the gift of AZA and BBG to thousands of Jewish teens. We’re one-another’s co-pilots on this journey and it doesn’t stop until we reach our objectives. We can do this, we can make it fun and we’ll share in successes and fulfillment – commitment starts with us.
Innovation starts with us. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Change, adaptation, and re-invention – these things are not easy. Recognizing when its needed and leading it can be harder. And yet, it’s our responsibility to leave our Orders stronger than we stepped into them. We’re the most innovative Jewish teen experience in the world. What we’ve dreamt up and achieved over the last decade goes against every scary trend the Jewish world faces today. Now it’s time to turn toward our core – how we contribute to the world, how we recruit and how we share AZA and BBG with others. We need to dig in and really elevate the way we lead at our grassroots. We expect you to be open-minded, pull the best of everything happening across AZA and BBG and push for a new standard of excellence when you return home.
Our chapters are where BBYO first clicked for us; for many of us its what made the Jewish community a home for us for the first time. It’s where we were first accepted and nurtured by upperclassmen that became role models, aspirations and family. Our chapters grew us, trained us and we were propelled into maturity and leadership by the platforms of support that our chapters provided. AZA and BBG, especially at the chapter level, need to be fun, compelling and an experience that Jewish teens feel connected to from the moment they give us a try to well beyond high school graduation. We have to build a chapter culture that offers experiences that our peers can’t get anywhere else. Every program, every meeting and every moment of contact between our Orders and teens needs to be at a standard we would be proud. Innovation breeds momentum. Our chapters’ best years are ahead of them.
Growth starts with us. It’s no secret that as Alephs and BBGs, the greatest gift that we can give any Jewish teen is membership into our two Orders. We pride ourselves on the rich traditions and bonds of our brotherhood and sisterhood. We’re thrilled to share with you our latest news; we’re set-up to make big moves this year. AZA and BBG are approaching 20,000 members and last year we reached more than 83,000 Jewish teens across North America and around the world. With more than 600 chapters, nearly a half-million alumni and BBYO programs spanning 34 countries as of this fall, we have connections across every geography and generation.
Follow-through starts with us. This year, we must invite, host and ask more Jewish teens to join the ranks of AZA and BBG. We must launch new chapters, we must offer responsibility to more of our peers and we have to connect more of our Brothers and Sisters to our summer programs, Israel experiences and international gatherings. It’s at those moments and in those places that they’ll grasp the full feeling of being at home with BBYO. With 63,000 teens orbiting closer and closer to AZA and BBG, we can grow our family to unprecedented heights. It’s our great privilege to share AZA and BBG with as many teens as we can; they’re guaranteed to love BBYO as much as we do – this is about follow-through and making connections.
In the past year alone, BBG grew to include over 10,000 strong young women for the first time in decades and the Aleph Zadik Aleph grew by a remarkable 4% - leaping ahead of BBG for the first time since independence and going against every male involvement trend across the rest of the Jewish community. With passionate chapter members and leaders, we want to continue our success by growing our movement from our roots. By embracing MRIHA, our relationship-driven recruitment model and educating our members on the value of AZA and BBG, we can grow exponentially. Bolstered by our chapter and global movement-wide initiatives, we can strengthen programming, position our Movement to attract more teens and make a bigger difference in the world.
Community starts with us. As it has become tradition, every February, our community unites together as one to send the Jewish community one clear message: we are capable of leading; we are hopeful, enthusiastic and motivated about the Jewish future; we as the Jewish People are stronger together. As we look to International Convention 2016, we’re only looking to go further. In just under eight weeks, IC launch parties will commence and the path toward one of the Jewish community’s largest annual gatherings will begin once again. Let’s take our ‘family reunion’ to a whole new level. When we gather in Baltimore, by the thousands, let’s show the world what AZA and BBG offer more than ever before. IC’s our broadest stage to have our voice heard, and where we can feel the power of our community most – this year we go bigger than ever before.
And then, there are all of you: our passionate, dynamic and visionary leaders; our partners; our friends. Colin and I spent our summers getting to know enthusiastic members from around the order. It would be an understatement to say that we were blown away by their desire to make a difference in the movement. The knowledge they possess is remarkable. Their excitement for launching the programming year is contagious. Our Brother Alephs and Sister BBGs are eager to make their mark on our fraternity and sisterhood; to start a life-long legacy of contributing to our People – legacy starts with us.
It’s on us to remember the teens that sent us here with every leadership choice we make. They are inspired by us, and we are inspired by them. They are passionate about fun, Judaism and repairing the world, and they look to this body with wide eyes and admiration. For most of us, this is our final year as an active member of AZA and BBG before we become lifetime members of BBYO. The majority of the teens we serve, remind us of the teens we once were, of a time when our BBYO journeys were just starting, and we remember what it was like to look at our role models, our heroes, deeply wanting to be just like them one day.
We’re responsible for them. All of us in this room – we’re responsible for them. It’s an honor, and a huge responsibility. They’re counting on us, to first make sure that AZA and BBG are healthy and vibrant for their full experience still to come; and second, that the Jewish community that they will follow us into is equally as strong.
L: Action starts with us. Together, the ninety of us are leading tens of thousands of Jewish teens, inspired by our values, to ensure that the Jewish People thrive. There’s no question that we face tough challenges: growing anti-Semitism, a continuing drop-off rate post Bar/Bat Mitzvah and decreasing membership rates across Jewish communal organizations. We need to educate our peers about our eternal homeland, the State of Israel, so that they can stand tall in world history classes and walk proudly across college campuses without fear or shame about the Jewish State.
With every Jewish teen we recruit that embraces the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the B’nai B’rith Girls, we guarantee the Jewish community a participatory, proud Jewish adult in the not near off future. Growing our BBYO family is the only way to guarantee that our younger brothers and sisters, and one day our own children, will have the opportunity to be Alephs and B’nai B’rith Girls; have the opportunity to be proud Jews. From the moment that you win your election, you have one year to make a difference. One year to set your goals, make your action plans and see your visions through to reality. We are positioned to shatter records and do great things. As our Movement’s leaders, you are the ones that can realize our Movement’s full potential. AZA and BBG certainly deserve our best. The Jewish people deserve our very best.
The future of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the B’nai B’rith Girls starts with us, right here and right now. Tonight, here at Capital Camps, we are living Sam Beber and Anita Perlman’s wildest dreams. They envisioned a worldwide youth movement that would build the Jewish youth who would be the architects of the Jewish future for years to come. Their vision now lies with us, as does the trust of those we represent. By taking ownership over that vision tonight, we commit to being what has always been fuel for the strength of our people – teens.
As it always has, and as it always will – it ALL starts with us.
We forever remain,
Aleph Colin Alexander Silverman, your 91st Grand Aleph Godol,
Lauren Rebecca Keats, your 71st International N’siah.