Make sure to stay up to date with your 90th Grand Aleph Godol and 70th International N’siah! You can also follow their adventures on Instagram and Twitter (here’s Sam’s handle, and here’s Amanda’s)!
Travel virtually with your Grand Aleph Godol
Travel virtually with your International N'siah
Traveling Through Time Zones
Posted on 03/25/2015 @ 04:00 PM
The 4-week, 9-country Global Jewish Teen Tour
Each year, BBYO, the world's leading pluralistic youth movement, sends its two democratically elected teen leaders to meet with their peers in Jewish communities around the world. For four weeks, starting on December 15, Amanda Freedman (Toronto, ON) and Sam Perlen (Nashville, TN) traveled to nine countries across Europe and the Middle East.
This is the story of a young boy and girl navigating through foreign airports.
A story of passport stamps and boarding passes, of long train rides and layovers.
A story of adventure.
Of seeing the world in new lights.
A story of history.
Of overcoming language barriers and cultural differences to create global connections.
This is not a story about AZA or BBG.
This is a story about the Jewish people.
Let’s start at the beginning. Our overseas journey began in Estonia, but this story – that of the Jewish people – started long before that, when Europe was the center of Jewish life 70 years ago.
We arrived in Estonia and soon learned that, during the Holocaust, Estonia had been stamped as ‘Judenfrei,’ a country free of Jews. In contrast, the last stop of our tour was Sofia, Bulgaria, where we learned that the Bulgarian King saved Jews living in the country during the Holocaust. Hitler had asked him to deport them, but he maintained that Jews were working on a project for him, and he would send them later. Every time Hitler asked for Bulgarian Jews to be deported, the King put off the request, explaining that he needed them for just a little longer…
Bulgaria was the only country to have more Jews after the Holocaust than before.
History and lessons such as this one played a large role in our overseas adventure, allowing us to understand our experiences in terms of the past, present and future.
We saw 6th century churches in Georgia. We breathed in the ancient air of the Old City in Jerusalem. We saw the most magnificent synagogues in Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey and Bulgaria.
These synagogues have witnessed the downfalls and uprises of our people. They have experienced the pogroms, been vandalized with swastikas and burnt to the ground by citizens driven to hatred. Despite this, they have been the venues for 13-year-old Jewish boys and girls to enter adulthood as they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. They have become sanctuaries of marital bliss. And they have been there every Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath Bride, waiting for a minyan to fill their temples with the words of God and the tunes of t’filah. These synagogues have stood the test of time, and still stand tall and proud of their Jewish heritage.
Our time in France in particular reminded us that the hardships of our Jewish history are sadly not things of the past. While in Montpellier for the BBYO France Convention, we were informed that bullet holes had been found in the windows of a synagogue in Paris. Despite this sobering news that a Jewish place of worship had been defaced, later that day, the teens of BBYO France danced and sang to Oseh Shalom, praying for peace around the world.
When we visited a small Jewish community in Turkey, home to fewer than 2,000 Jewish individuals, we experienced a kind of Jewish life we could’ve never imagined. During our stay, we met with the president of that Jewish community who laid out their anticipated future which, unfortunately, does not look so promising, as the community is predominantly made up of people in their 60s and 70s. Despite that, when he raved about the youth and their active role in bettering the community, we understood that he was proud of the present and, against all odds, has hope for the future. This reaffirmed for us, more than ever, that what we do and who we are as part of BBYO is vital to the global Jewish future.
One of the most impactful parts of our trip was during our week-long stay in Israel when we visited the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) headquarters in Jerusalem. There, we learned about the JDC’s 100+ year history of saving Jewish people in need of humanitarian aid around the world. As the camps were liberated at the end of World War II, the JDC shipped 227 million pounds of supplies to Europe to provide urgent aid for Holocaust survivors. In 1991, the JDC executed Operation Solomon, a rescue mission that airlifted 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to refuge in Israel. Today, the JDC has created partnerships with BBYO in 16 different countries to help us connect with Jews all over the world.
It was during this meeting at the JDC office that we understood that we were no longer on a trip, but rather a mission.
“Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze Le Ze,” all the Jews of Israel are responsible for one another.
Throughout this trip, we were responsible for showing the Jewish teens in these 9 countries that there are 45,000 Jewish teens in North America wanting to know them and connect with them. Now, as we move forward, we are responsible for providing Jewish teens across the globe a safe environment where they can express their Judaism freely. We are responsible for ensuring that the Jewish people are thriving in our own backyards and on the other side of the world.
Because if we don’t take responsibility, who will?
- Amanda and Sam
Food for Thought
While this trip was about the past, the present and the future, it was also about food. With all that travel comes a culinary tour of the world, and, below, we’re providing you with our own culinary dictionary of the top three most unique and delicious foods consumed during our trip:
Poyke (also known as Israeli Cowboy Stew): Poyke is a dish where you toss together meat, vegetables and Israeli couscous into a pot and cook it over a fire. We ate Poyke with the Maccabi Tzair community in Nes Tziona, and it was so good!
Khinkali: These dumplings from the Mountains of Georgia are delicious twisted knobs of dough filled with meat, spices and a savory soup-like liquid. One must eat Khinkali very carefully, or else all of the yummy soup inside spills out!
Manti: Turkish beef-filled ravioli pasta with yogurt, garlic and red pepper sauce on top. Manti may not follow the laws of kashrut, but it sure is delicious!
Remembering Leonard Nimory:
A Reflection by Howard Cohen, Former Grand Aleph Godol, 84-85
Posted on 01/16/2015 @ 12:00 PM
Years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Leonard Nimoy. He was appearing at Book Expo America to promote his photography book, Shekhina, and it so happened that his publishers’ booth was just down the same aisle where I was stationed. As you would expect, it was a well-attended signing so I waited until the initial rush died down before I headed over there with the intention of getting something signed for my brother. Nimoy was very personable and we chatted. As he signed the promo material, I thanked him and told him that now we had each others’ signatures. Puzzled, he asked me to explain.
In 1984, I was the president of a youth group, the Aleph Zadik Aleph, the boys division of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Each year, the governing body would choose a distinguished alumnus to award and during my presidency, he had been chosen. Nimoy had been a member when he was in high school in Boston. When his “office” was notified, the word was that he was thrilled and honored and that AZA had been very important to him. Among his early acting experiences were plays his local chapter staged. It was also mentioned he would try his best to accept the award in person at our annual International Convention in August at our camp in the Pocono Mountains where he would address the convention.
The winner of the award receives a plaque recognizing the achievement and, as president that year, my signature was engraved on it. In the end, his schedule did not allow him to make the trip and I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. How cool would it have been to introduce him after being a fan of his for most of my nineteen years. Still, who knows if he ever even saw the plaque? If it was just sent to his office and stayed in a box all these years?
After telling him this, and to my great delight, he told me how remarkable it was to meet me. He knew my signature well as the kept plaque hung at about eye level on the wall of his study near the chair where he spent time reading. In fact, he told me, he saw it almost every day and it was an award of which he was especially proud.
AZA had meant a great deal to him and to be remembered and recognized was a great honor in a very distinguished career. He then stood up, extended his hand to give me the AZA handshake, a traditional handshake with the index finger extended so that we would touch each other’s pulse, the other three fingers representing Ahava (love), Tzedakah (charity), and Achdoot (brotherhood) with the thumb symbolic of the binding belief in one G-d, and said to me, “Thank you, my brother Aleph”.
Thank you, Leonard Nimoy. You will be missed. Howard Cohen Grand Aleph Gadol 1984-85
On N'est Pas Tout Seul: We Are Not Alone
Posted on 01/16/2015 @ 12:00 PM
Each year, BBYO, the world's leading pluralistic youth movement, sends its two democratically elected teen leaders to meet with their peers in Jewish communities around the world. For four weeks, starting on December 15, Amanda Freedman (Toronto, ON) and Sam Perlen (Nashville, TN) traveled to nine countries across Europe and the Middle East including a stop in Paris, France to meet with their peers there. This is the story of their connection.
Juliette Hochberg is a Jewish teen in France. Even though she lives across the world, we’re more alike than we previously thought. She wears the same kind of clothes we wear, listens to a lot of the same music we listen to and, like us, deals with typical teenage drama.
While all of those similarities connect us, there’s a bigger one that helped us become fast friends in just one weekend when we visited Paris three weeks ago. Juliette belongs to BBYO, the same Jewish youth movement that we belong to, and serves as the president of BBYO France. She’s Jewish just like us.
Juliette taught us French phrases, told us what her everyday life is like and shared popular music with us. By the end of our weekend together, we were arm in arm, laughing and singing - often to the lyrics of a popular French rap song, "On n'est pas tout seul." We are not alone.
Last week, separated again, we watched from a BBYO member's house in Bulgaria as the violence unfolded in Paris. The images of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the tragedy at Hyper Cacher, the kosher supermarket, brought us to tears. If we had not been in Paris only a week before, we would have understood this tragedy only from the perspective of media reports. But now, it touched our hearts in a different way. We reached out to our new friend, and this is what she said:
"People keep asking me this stupid question 'do you feel more French or Jewish?'"
We’re Jewish, and we’re French. Since always. Since Wednesday, we are also Charlie because we want to continue to express ourselves. It’s one of the values that France, our country, taught us and that we use in BBYO, when we write, lead or pray. Since
Thursday, we are Charlie and we are police, because we want to be protected and safe. But, since Friday, we are Charlie, we are police and we are Jewish...
This Shabbat we cried for the loss of four other Jews killed because they were Jewish. Once again [like after the Toulouse murders], we endure the same nightmare, but this time we don't cry alone. That Sunday, the 11th of January, world leaders arrived in Paris to show their support to France, and at the same time, all around the world, the members of BBYO sent us their thoughts and support.
To Jewish teens around the world: Thank you. Thanks for coming, to check with your eyes that we all have the same values. Thanks for your support and solidarity. That solidarity and unity comforted us and made us understand the meaning of that sentence that we heard during the last IC [BBYO's annual International Convention], "home is wherever I am with you."
To Jewish teens in France: do not be afraid of being a French Jew. We are French and we are Jewish. We are many, and yet together, we are one.
We've been united by pain, but we will remain united, more than ever."
The story of the Jewish people is often one of overcoming tragedy and hardships; one of resilience and perseverance. As teen leaders, we are not afraid to dream of a brighter future and we know that pride and hope often go hand in hand. We know that in times of need, creating connection points and extending a helping hand can lift a community when they've been knocked down.
During our visit, those lyrics we sang with Juliette were merely words. But, now, as we look forward to the critical role that we will play in strengthening the Jewish future, we realize that these words may just define what it means to be a part of the global Jewish community. "On n'est pas tout seul." We are not alone.
Juliette and the members of BBYO France are not alone. We share a common heritage, a pride in being a part of something bigger and the commitment to ensuring a brighter Jewish future. We will get through this together as one Jewish community, showing our support to our brothers and sisters in France.
Today, we are connected in more ways than ever before. Through our travels during this year, we've heard lots of languages and experienced many different ways of being Jewish and showing Jewish pride. But, at the end of each week on Shabbat, we all share in the same words and the same hope and pursuit for Shalom, peace.
On n'est pas tout seul. We are not alone.
By Amanda Freedman and Sam Perlen, with Juliette Hochberg
Posted on 12/01/2014 @ 12:00 PM
We sat around our family tables
Exchanging laughs and smiles of cheer
As we enjoyed Turkey dinner, we sat and reflected:
What are we thankful for this year?
What BBYO has given us
Is a longer list than this blog will allow.
But we want to thank the movement that’s changed our lives,
If you’d come along for the journey with us now.
It started when we were freshman,
A young boy in Nashville, Tennessee
Joined AZA and found a place to call home,
While a girl in Toronto found hers in BBG.
They started off as quiet children
But others could see their spark.
They were beaming with leadership potential,
It was in every beat of their heart.
As they joined chapters and became members of value,
They believed in the differences they could make.
While they tested the waters of holding leadership positions,
They grew into true leaders as they learned from mistakes.
BBYO gave them the confidence they needed
To believe in themselves and have a place to belong.
They felt it at every program and convention,
With every Shabbat and Friendship Circle sing-a-long.
BBYO showed them the world beyond their hometowns
As they ventured to camps Beber and Perlman.
They explored their Jewish identities under starry night skies,
And in the process made life-long best friends.
Today we could not be prouder
To serve our Brother Alephs and Sister BBGs
As Grand Aleph Godol and International N’siah,
And help expand our BBYO family.
We are thankful to every BBYO community
That welcomed us with open-arms wide.
For allowing us to be immersed with the members,
And for showing us your chapters and their pride.
Every Chapter, Council, and Region we visit
Has a unique spirit all their own,
But that same universal BBYO feeling
That makes every visit feel like coming home.
We thank BBYO for being the place where we’ve grown
Into the people we see when we look in the mirror.
For giving us memories, friendships, values, and opportunities,
For allowing us to find ourselves here.
For if it were not for BBYO,
We’d probably be those same kids
Who wanted to learn how to speak their voices,
But never could, and never did.
So we stand here today
Global Jewish leaders, movers, and shakers
And we thank BBYO for all of it,
For teaching us how to be changemakers.
BBYO has the ability to alter lives
We promise it can change yours, too
This #GivingTuesday, when you give to BBYO
Know you are investing in the future of the Jews.
- Amanda and Sam
Posted on 11/24/2014 @ 09:00 AM
Coming from Cotton States Region, a region spanning three states, regional conventions were the highlights of my year. I got to see my friends from all over, and I got to see the brotherhood and sisterhood that my region values so much. Traveling this year so far, I have had the privilege to participate in the traditions and conventions of six regions.
What makes my journey from convention to convention so special is how unique each one is in its own ways. I am a big proponent of tradition, so each tradition of the region is something I have been on the lookout for. I also find it unique how all conventions have a connection to bond them together as one. Recently, I attended two conventions on the opposite side of the country, which have both been unique, yet they each have a connection.
I went to Michigan Region’s convention in Ortonville, Michigan at Tamarack Camp. After about an hour bus ride, we arrived at the camp with it already dark and pretty cold. It was definitely the coldest convention I have been to this year, yet one of the most fun and meaningful ones. We had an incredible Global Shabbat program and service, which all members definitely enjoyed. Saturday morning, the last thing I expected to wake up to early in November was snowfall and falling temperatures, but it was actually kind of fun with the snow. Saturday was a day full of exciting programming in frigid temperatures highlighted by an awesome Israel program led by two StandWithUs MZ Teen interns. Saturday night is what truly made this convention special. We made our way up to the bonfire circle together as one collective convention community for Havdalah and a meaningful bonfire. I absolutely love bonfires, but this one was special. A member of a chapter in Michigan Region passed away a few years ago, and the bonfire circle was named after that member. A chapter tradition is to sing a song the member wrote, and hearing members of the chapter honor him with that song was powerful and moving. That was a bonfire experience that I will never forget, and I thank Michigan Region for the incredible memories.
The next convention I went to was Pacific Western Region’s Battle of the Chapters. Contrary to the weather in Michigan, there was no sign of snow in Los Angeles. Coming into the weekend, I was very excited to see the passion and spirit of the chapters of PWR, but I never expected to see the spirit I saw. The weekend started with a great Friday night where PWR showed their spirit. There was also an incredible AZA separates where we were able to look at some of AZA history from perspectives of older members and reflect. Then came Saturday, where there were chapter challenges and fun games including an awesome water balloon fight. Saturday night was where Edan Levanon and Rotem Azariya gave their thoughts on the state of the region in great speeches. Just like in Michigan Region, we finished our night with a bonfire where we were able to embrace each other and show our brotherhood and sisterhood. PWR was an incredible experience and I thank them for a great Battle of the Chapters.
This past weekend, I will attended Central Region West’s Leadership Summit. Stay tuned for what I found and felt there.
Fraternally submitted with an undying love for,
Athens of the South AZA #258, Cotton States Region #72, CLTC 5 2011, CLTC 7 2014, the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the 7 Cardinal Principles upon which it stands,
I will forever remain Aleph Samuel Albert Perlen
Life Lessons on Shabbos
Posted on 11/17/2014 @ 09:00 AM
After I was elected International N’siah, a family friend of mine gave me a beautiful set of travel candlesticks to light on Shabbat in all of the different places I visit. I have celebrated Shabbat with 10 different communities so far this year, and I have used these candlesticks in each one and captured a photo. These candlesticks have been to DC, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Colorado. On Friday, November 7, 514 chapters in 10 different countries celebrated AZA BBG Global Shabbat. Of all the communities I could have visited that week, I chose to spend my 10th Shabbat with the Tulsa BBYO community at their Tulsa Kallah Weekend.
Tulsa BBYO was already a big part of my life before I was even old enough to join BBYO. My mom was born and raised in Nona Bloch Salomon BBG #243, the Tulsa BBG chapter. Three of my first cousins have served as N’siah of the chapter, and one of them even served as the 62nd International N’siah, eight years before me. My BBYO roots have been planted in Tulsa BBYO, and I was so excited to finally spend a weekend with this special community. Throughout the 24 hours of my Shabbat with Tulsa BBYO, I learned three very important life lessons, which made this Shabbat the most special of all.
Life Lesson #1: We All Need A.I.R. To Breathe
Yes, I already knew this lesson from third grade science class when we learned that humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and without air to fill our lungs we would not be able to live. But I’m not talking about air, I’m talking about A.I.R.—which stands for Affection, Intimacy, Relationships—the theme of Tulsa Kallah 2014. Throughout the weekend, we had several open conversations about what it means to be in a platonic relationship, in a romantic relationship, and the gender roles and stereotypes associated with being in a relationship. I learned that life is all about building connections with people, and that we all need to have strong and healthy friendships and relationships in order to be happy and live meaningful lives. I learned that we may need air to inhale and exhale, but we all need A.I.R. to breathe.
Life Lesson #2: Music Is The Best Medicine
Speakers are always brought in for Tulsa Kallah, and they help elevate the programming and echo the weekend’s theme. Two different speakers were brought in for this year’s Tulsa Kallah. The first were two actors from a troupe called Catharsis Productions who spoke to us about gender roles in society and did some improv to show us how to speak up for ourselves in the hopes of reducing violence in interpersonal relationships. The second was a woman who told us her story of being a survivor of sexual abuse, and how she overcame it. Both speakers were so fitting with BBYO’s most recent BBYO Stand UP Campaign, Girls Achieve Grapeness, which aims to advocate and spread awareness to end violence against women.
After the intense morning of hearing both speakers talk about such heavy issues in our world today, I started to get a headache and a wave of exhaustion came over me, so I planned on taking a nap to cure me of my mid-convention fatigue. However, before I was able to, I saw Eric Hunker and Happie Hoffman, two of BBYO’s incredible songleaders, sitting on a table, strumming a song on a guitar that had become all too familiar for me. Eric and Happie cover a lot of great songs, and my favorite is a cover they do of Michael Kiwanuka’s I’m Getting Ready (which you can listen to here) This is a song I’ve listened to when I want to feel calm and at peace, and there they were, sitting on the table, singing and strumming this very song. My face lit up and I walked over to sing along, knowing every single word. The next thing I knew, a group had gathered on the floor, and we spent the next hour singing songs and letting music feed the ache in our souls.
When we finished this jam session, I realized that my headache had faded away, and I had never felt better. Tulsa Kallah taught me that in tough times, music is the best medicine.
Life Lesson #3: I’m A Leader Because My Voice Matters
At Tulsa Kallah BBG separates, I learned (along with Salomon BBG) how to #BanBossy. We talked about the role of women in our world, and how when girls try to be leaders, or be assertive, or speak passionately about their beliefs, such admirable actions are spun against us in a negatively light. Most of the time, girls who dare to rise above the status quo are called bossy for trying to make a difference. Throughout the program, we discussed that this is a problem caused by both men and women, but we cannot let being called “bossy” stop us from being the changemakers and groundbreakers that we have the power to become. Every BBG got a piece of paper with “Ban Bossy” written on one side, and had to complete the sentence “I’m a leader because…” on the other. As I sat with a group of girls I had gotten so close to in such a short amount of time, I realized that every single one of us cannot let being labeled “bossy” quiet our voices, because everybody has a voice, and everybody matters. The one thing no one can ever take from us is our voice, and we have to use our voice to speak up for those who don’t know how.
At Tulsa Kallah, I learned how to be a leader, which is why I chose to complete my sentence like this:
Submitted with undying love for Tulsa Kallah 2014, BBG Global Shabbat, candlesticks, Salomon BBG #243, Life Lessons, A.I.R., music, voices, and #BanBossy,
Amanda Eliza Lauren Freedman
70th International N’siah
The Opposite of Loneliness
Posted on 11/07/2014 @ 09:00 AM
“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.” The feeling of the opposite of loneliness is something I have been searching for my entire life, hoping this year could provide some clarity for me. This year, though, I want to find more than my opposite of loneliness; I want to find what makes the members of AZA and BBG feel the opposite of loneliness.
This desire was reaffirmed at CLTC 7 this past summer where my co, Hannah Stulberg, and I read an edited passage from the book The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. Keegan was a stellar author from Yale University on the search for the opposite of loneliness before her life was taken away in a car accident. It taught me that we can all find an opposite of loneliness in our lives, and I hope to find this year that for others.
“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.” One of the greatest things about this year so far has been the communities I’ve visited and seen that no one stands alone and, the best part about the communities I’ve seen, is that no two are the same.
I spent a week in Rocky Mountain Region where I saw the AZA community they have built on brotherhood and some incredible traditions. I spent the week leading up to Fall Convention staying with numerous Alephs in the region and, during that week, every family made sure I never felt lonely and I always felt at home. I was anxious to see the full RMR community at Fall Convention and, when I did, I was blown away. At the Pink Shabbat service Friday night, I felt at home. I felt a level of respect and passion towards the topic of cancer research and awareness. I was able to share my own experience with cancer and the community of RMR let me open and talk about how my past communities made sure I felt the opposite of loneliness. I felt every single of the 127 people at the convention and I felt great.
I had heard about the incredible brotherhood and passion of the Alephs of RMR, yet I was ready to feel it for myself. During spirit, I felt a feeling I have never really felt before. Everything I had heard about RMR spirit was true and it was the most passionate and exciting spirit I have ever been a part of. What was so special about it was that every Aleph in that circle felt the opposite of loneliness. I saw every single Aleph cheering and showing how much they care. Thank you, RMR, for showing me what true brotherhood is and how to make members in the community feel the opposite of loneliness.
After leaving Denver, I went to New England Region for a week as well for their kickoff. I spent the week with various members through the Boston area as well as Providence, Rhode Island. I want to fast forward to a moment at New England Region Kickoff which stuck out to me as a time where I felt exhilarated and empowered to make others feel the opposite of loneliness. We were well into the cheer session when an Aleph from NER, Yishai Barth, started talking. I didn’t really know going in what cheer he was prepping all of us for, but I was anxious to figure it out. Yishai started talking about how AZA is more than just a bunch of guys and how it is truly a brotherhood and how it takes every single one of us to be loud and to make a difference. He was talking about the cheer “Never too many,” one of my favorites. Yishai said we start low for the cheer because we came from a low place and we started as few, but we built a community that is strong and mighty and that is why we rise up, get louder and jump like crazy.
I now am spending my time with Michigan Region meeting the community here in the Detroit area. I am excited to be attending Fall Convention and Global Shabbat this weekend with my brother Alephs and sister BBGs. I can’t wait to meet the community in Michigan and find what the opposite of loneliness means to the members here.
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel in BBYO. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that. We’re in this together, BBYO. Let’s make something happen to this world.
Fraternally submitted with an undying love for,
Athens of the South AZA #258, Cotton States Region #72, CLTC 5 2011, CLTC 7 2014, feeling the opposite of loneliness, the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the 7 Cardinal Principles upon which it stands,
I will forever remain Aleph Samuel Albert Perlen
A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story
Posted on 10/31/2014 @ 10:00 AM
Every moment of our life is a choice we make.
Some choices are conscious: decisions that we are actively making. Choices where you spend time weighing all of the pros and cons to actively choose the best possibility - like deciding what to wear today, deciding whether to order the Oreo or strawberry banana milkshake at Johnny Rockets, or deciding what to do with the rest of your life.
Other choices are subconscious, where we don’t even think that we have power or control over what we are doing - like choosing to get out of bed in the morning, choosing to work hard in school, choosing to make a positive impact on the people around us. We make these choices without even taking a minute to realize they are happening.
I’ve thought a lot about choices and decisions recently. I spent this past weekend with Rocky Mountain Region at their Fall Convention, where the theme was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and I was very impressed with the choices made to plan and participate throughout the weekend.
It started Friday evening with a Pink Shabbat to raise awareness for breast cancer. Almost every Aleph and B’nai B’rith Girl chose to deck themselves out in Pink Shabbat attire to join in the cause. People decided to share their personal experiences with breast cancer, and I watched as a communal bond was formed. It continued through RMR’s Annual Mr. AZA Pageant, as the convention body chose to support their fellow Alephs in strutting their stuff, and I was proud of my co, Sam Perlen, for placing 2nd (I guess you can’t win ‘em all).
It continued Saturday afternoon when Sam and I got to run our first roadshow program together. We’ve been planning programs to be able to run on visits, and we created a Brotherhood/Sisterhood program to run on visits when we are together. The program requires getting into partners with someone you don’t know in order to spend time truly getting to know someone new. We figured teens would choose to go with their friends, but were surprised when the participants went out of their way to pick a partner they really did not know in order to gain the most out of the program. The choice to participate and fully engage themselves in the program resulted in a meaningful experience each time we ran it.
But it was confirmed during BBG separates that evening. This separates broke the mold of crying and candles (okay there were electronic tealights, but still), and it was an evening where everything depended on the choices we make. We were given a situation and had two paths which we could take. Once we decided what we wanted to do, we divided into smaller groups and kept playing out the situation. At one point, we sat in a circle and reflected on a tough decision each individual had made up until now. What was mine, you ask? The choice that led me here, writing this blog post about this crazy adventure of a year. I realized that we are afraid of making decisions because choice means change. But, the wise words of Harvey Mackay should guide us all towards how we make decisions: "If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just said it would be worth it."
Thank you, RMR, for reminding me that existence is standing at a fork in the road, while living is choosing what path to take. And, that the best choice of all is the choice of adventure.
Later in the week, I started thinking more about the choices we make. I'm a strong believer in the idea that "either you run the day or the day runs you." We may not be able to control everything that happens to us, but we are able to choose how we react to life at it's most trying times. Too often, we let the day run us. We get frustrated, knocked down, and don't want to get back up until a new day comes and it's our turn to run it. But, choosing to run our days is the best way to run our lives. Flying to Boston Wednesday, I was exhausted and frustrated, my backpack feeling heavier than ever, and I started to let the day do the running, which never feels good. So, I sat on the plane and realized that it was my turn to take control of how the day turned out. Sure, it started a little rough, but the choice was mine whether I wanted to enjoy it or not. So I lost myself in Taylor Swift's new album (recently downloaded to my iPod), closed my eyes, and started to run my day.
We don't have a say in everything that happens in this world, but we do have a say in how it affects us. After an attack on my country's security last week, this is how we chose to react:
Submitted with undying love for choices, chances, adventures, running our days, and refusing to fall,
Amanda Eliza Lauren Freedman 70th International N'siah
This World is an Incredible Place
Posted on 10/24/2014 @ 10:00 AM
This world is a pretty incredible place filled with unique and interesting people. In my travels up to now, I have been able to experience and see this incredible world. I have been able to see how Judaism is practiced all across America. (I’ve also been able to eat a lot of great food that is unique to the places I have been!)
Most importantly, I have seen what AZA means to Alephs nation wide. Two of my favorite parts of AZA are separates and passionate cheer sessions. There is something special about being with your brother Alephs and diving deep into meaningful discussions and programs. Yet, there is nothing like the feeling with your hand on the shoulders of your brother Alephs and their hands on yours cheering about AZA until you can’t anymore. In my travels so far, I have been able to experience unique separates and crazy cheer sessions where I come out looking like I took a dip in a pool.
In Atlanta Council, I was part of the most unique cheer session I’ve ever been a part of. It was awesome to see nearly every Aleph in the circle with a red mark on his left chest from the AZA heartbeat. With Lake Ontario Region and Eastern Canada Region, I saw the Alephs of two regions come together as one as blood brothers and unite. It was powerful to see each Aleph in the room look at themselves and reflect. In South Jersey Region, I attended one of the most powerful and meaningful separates I have ever been apart of. I was able to walk around a museum set up by the regional board about what it would be like in about 80 years if the Jewish people were no more. The members took this program very seriously and they got a lot out of it. This was followed by an awesome cheer session where you could tell every member was really into it.
In the 10 regions or councils I have been to, I can tell how much AZA means to all of the communities. In Atlanta, I was able to see what a crazy and unique cheer session can be like. In DC, I saw the excitement for the year. In Omaha, I was able to see the roots of this order. In Kansas City, I saw excitement and passion cheering for their hometown Royals who are now in the World Series. I saw a new chapter in St. Louis put all they could into being successful as well as a fun time at a Cardinals game. In GMR, I saw an excitement around IC and their chapters that inspired me. In South Jersey Region, I saw the Alephs stand up to anti-Semitism and learn about what could be.
Now in Denver, I am excited to be a part of the community here for the weekend at Rocky Mountain Region’s Fall Convention. It will be an incredible weekend where the members of RMR support Breast Cancer Awareness as well as Cancer Awareness as a whole with a pink Shabbat this Friday night. This is a cause dear to my heart, and it is incredible to hear that Alephs and BBGs Stand UP for this great cause.
My travels have been inspiring so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has to come.
Fraternally submitted with an undying love for
Athens of the South AZA #258, Cotton States Region #72, CLTC 5 2011, CLTC 7 2014, RMR Fall Convention this weekend, Walking Dead with Rosie, Baseball games with BBYO, Peach tea at conventions, Rusty Smith, IC kick off with GMR, Israel, Keeping PACE, Omaha, Nebraska, the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the 7 Cardinal Principles upon which it stands,
I will forever remain Aleph Samuel Albert Perlen
Following the Yellow Brick Road
Posted on 10/22/2014 @ 10:00 AM
In Kansas City, I bought a postcard with a picture of the Wizard of Oz with the caption “There’s No Place Like Home.” I buy postcards in each city I visit, so I didn’t think much of it when I made the purchase. I liked it better than the postcards with images of tornados and farmland, so I spent 99 cents and added the postcard to my collection without a second thought.
I sat on the plane flying home to Toronto and pulled out that postcard, reminiscing about the old friends I had seen, the new friends I had made, the memories and laughs that we had shared – and realized that I didn’t really want to leave.
Home is many things. It is place, it is people. It is physical structure and it is arms wrapped around each other. But it has taken on a new meaning for me these past few weeks: Home is the feeling of not wanting to leave.
This year, so far, I have traveled to 13 different cities. I’ve been to 10 different states on 9 different visits. I’ve seen 7 regions, 6 councils and, in every single one, I am welcomed with open arms, immersed in the chapters and felt like I have always been a part of their community.
I just completed the “Mid-America Tour,” where I visited the 4 councils that make up Mid-America Region. Visiting North Star Council in Minneapolis, I was reminded how important it is to focus on building the future now when I attended a program joint with their BBYO Connect teens. Visiting Omaha Council, I was reminded of how important it is to remember our roots and the place from which our Movement stemmed, and I was enriched in a Jewish community full of so much history.
In St. Louis Council and Kansas City Council, I was infused in fall. The backdrop of these visits were pumpkin patches and trees bursting with every fall color fading into one another like a rainbow. St. Louis held a “BBYTober-Fest” event filled with lots of fall fun, and Kansas City restarted an old tradition of hanging out on Saturday nights at a local diner – something an alum of the community reminisced about earlier that morning.
After all of the new connections formed, inspiration shared, and passion reignited, Mid-America has a special place in my heart. My visits were warm, like being wrapped in a cozy flannel button-down on an autumn day. It was like being at home, and not wanting to leave.
As I returned to Toronto, I spent my first evening back home attending The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Major Donors Dinner, where the keynote speaker was Alan Dershowitz, an author, political commentator and past professor at Harvard Law School. As I thought about all of the new homes I had just built on my most recent visits, Professor Dershowitz reminded me of my most important home of all: Israel.
He spoke of the situation Israel is facing, and how the world twists the facts to make Israel look like the bad guy for practicing her right to defend herself. He profoundly put it: “Israel uses its soldiers to protect its civilians, Hamas uses civilians to protect its soldiers.” He told us how scary the future could look for Israel if we stay silent, but we were reassured that gathering here tonight was the best way to Speak UP for our Jewish homeland. “You need to make sure that the North American Jewish Community is strong, because that is our most powerful military weapon.” Professor Dershowitz helped me see the crucial role BBYO plays in protecting the future of Israel, and I am so thankful to be a part of an organization that does so much to keep our home safe.
Never forget that every voice can make a difference, and we must always follow the “yellow brick road” to protect the places and the people we call home.
Until Next Time,
Shanah Tovah and Happy New Year BBYO!
Posted on 10/13/2014 @ 01:28 PM
We are so excited to be kicking the Keeping PACE blog off after a meaningful Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We each had an inspiring end to 5774, and we are ready to make 5775 the best year BBYO has seen yet.
In our short time since August Executives Conference, together, we have visited 15 different councils and regions, and we have been inspired by the members and welcomed into their communities. We have seen the three Florida regions come together for the first time in 10 years for a convention since they split from being one Florida Region. We have seen the roots of AZA in Omaha, Nebraska celebrate their 90th anniversary with the whole community. We have met with community leaders and visited the oldest synagogue in the South. We have seen kickoffs to the BBYO year all across the country, drawing record numbers and bringing excitement to the 2014-2015 BBYO year.
We have witnessed our Movement’s historical moments as we kick off the New Year by breaking records. On September 30th at 8 PM EST, we made the biggest push for registration for International Convention that we have ever seen. The Order was buzzing with so much energy that no one could keep up with the explosion of notifications on social media, and it was night where we watched our Movement move. In a mere 18 hours, we had over 2,000 teens signed up from all across North America, and we were able to show the Jewish world the power that we have. We have seen record numbers in numerous regions, and IC 2015 in Atlanta will be the biggest and most powerful yet. Sam was able to celebrate IC registration in Chicago with Great Midwest Region (GMR) at a party in the city which was incredible! GMR brought in record numbers and it was just an overall great night for them. Amanda launched IC registration with Southern Region: Atlanta Council in the host city of IC - Atlanta, Georgia! Atlanta has a record number of about 220 members registered, and they showed so much excitement to welcome our Order into their hometown for IC 2015.
Sam is currently visiting South Jersey Region and Amanda is doing a Mid-America Region tour visiting all four councils: North Star, Omaha, St. Louis, and Kansas City! We have been adjusting to the travel life since the year kicked off, and are loving life on the road. We’ve learned a lot in only the first month of our term. We have memorized our frequent flyer numbers, acquired the skill to fall asleep instantly on any moving vehicle, and we have never appreciated laundry and a home-cooked meal so much. But more than that, through our visits, we’ve been immersed in each community and how special they are. We’ve been to big cities and small, conventions from 30 teens to 250 teens, and been fascinated by the unique traditions each council and region hold dear to their hearts.
But there is a moment during each visit when we feel it: that BBYO feeling. That sense of being in the greatest place with the greatest people, and feeling a part of something greater than yourself. We enter every visit feeling so welcomed, and we leave feeling inspired by the moments we were a part of, confident that the future of the Jewish people is in great hands.
We could not be luckier to spend our year being a part of the magic that is AZA and BBG, and we can’t wait for the future adventures to come!
Until Next Time,
Sam and Amanda
Keep PACE with us!
Posted on 09/10/2014 @ 01:28 PM
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