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BBYO Shabbat Message of the Week

The shameless plug edition... -- Shabbat Message 1/9/15

Posted on 01/09/2015 @ 11:00 AM

Ever wonder why the Egyptians were faced with plagues?

Ever want to explore how the story of the Exodus might not be exactly how it’s presented in The Prince of Egypt… or in the Hagaddah?

Ever just want to start eating breakfast before the rest of staff conference?

Come, learn, and eat together with your colleagues. Thursday morning of Staff Conference we’ll be holding an open discussion on the Torah portion of the week. It’s a doozy – Moses, Pharoah, frogs and lice. Absolutely no preparation is needed (or even really desired!), just come and read along!

Shabbat Shalom – and safe travels everyone! We’ll see you at Staff Conference!



Happy Hannukah BBYO! -- Shabbat & Holiday Message 12/19/14

Posted on 12/19/2014 @ 11:00 AM

Happy Hannukah BBYO! In honor of the holiday of light, we’d like to highlight some Jewish values and actions that we can take to bring light to our world.

Each day we’ll add another value and ask you – BBYO – to add your thoughts and actions. For each day of Hannukah, visit the posts on our sharepoint home site (linked below) to get some ideas and share what you can do to help bring that value’s light into the world!

1 Candle: צדק Tzedek, Justice

2 Candles: נדיבות Nidivut, Generosity

3 Candles: הודיה Hoda’ah, Gratitude

4 Candles: כבוד אב ואם Kibud Av v’Em, Honoring Parents

5 Candles: תלמוד תורה Talmud Torah, Studying Torah

6 Candles: הכנסת אורכים Hachnasat Orchim, Hospitality

7 Candles: אהבת ישראל Ahavat Yisrael, Love of Israel (the country or the people) *Will be posted next week

8 Candles: רחמנות Rachmanut, Compassion * Will be posted next week

Happy Hannukah! And Happy New Year - - your next scheduled Shabbat / Holiday message will come for the week of January 9th.

Appreciation to for the inspiration!



Entering the World of Hesed- Shabbat Message 12/12/14

Posted on 12/12/2014 @ 11:00 AM

Last night, for the first time since motzei Shabbat, I went to sleep without the sound of helicopters overhead. During the previous four evenings, hundreds of Bay Area residents in gathered in Berkeley, CA to protest both grand juries’ decisions not to indict the police officers who took the lives of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York City. Berkeley, most famous as the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement in the mid-sixties, came alive again with marching, singing, a heavy police presence, and, unfortunately, several incidents of vandalism and violence.

During the first night of protests, Jen and I decided to join the group of two-hundred people gathering just a few blocks away from our apartment. Since the end of the summer, we had been in constant conversation about our obligations as Jews, the privileges we enjoy as ‘white’ Americans, and a vision of the world we want to build for our future children to live in. Supporting these protests felt like a moment to express our values concretely and publicly. We arrived too late to join the protest itself--by the time we got there we saw hundreds of riot police being bused in and moving into formations from nearby city departments, created a perimeter around the protesters before they could block traffic to the I80 freeway. We stood quietly, waiting to see what would happen.

For the first time in my life, I was confronted with an overwhelming police presence. The line of officers in front of me, men and women, were in full riot gear--all of them holding either large black batons or ‘less-than-lethal’ weapons. Unable to join the protestors who had been kettled, many people around me began screaming obscenities, insults, and taunts towards the police. Like a flash, the words of the Mishna filled my head and heart:

כָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת, מַעְלִים עָלָיו כְּאִילּוּ אִיבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא

Kol ha’meabed nefesh achat, ma’alim alav k’ilu ibed olam maleh

Someone who destroys one life is considered to have destroyed an entire world

I began feeling radical empathy and compassion--hesed, but for whom? The Berkeley Police Department, who later that night would use tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors? The protestors, even those individuals who resorted to breaking windows of private businesses? The grand juries? Michael and Eric? Who? What was the Mishna trying to tell me?

During the nights since that first protest, I have preferred to check Twitter than put my shoes and hat on to stand outside with marching masses, wondering “I am not a politician, a sociologist, or activist. What will I do to create the world of hesed I want my children to live in?” I’m only being graced now, while I write this, with the beginning of an answer.

When I take lines like the one above from the Mishna, the countless calls to action in the Torah, or even simply the Panim Jewish Values Matrix or the goals of ‘IMPROVE’ seriously, I am creating the world of hesed. When I feel myself moving towards places others avoid, I am creating the world of hesed. When we ask our teens to confront and face hunger, or homelessness, or sick children and the elderly in local hospitals, we are asking them to create the world of hesed. But only when we see these acts as natural extensions of ourselves, as instincts rather than moments of inspiration, will we actually enter the world of hesed.

In my last days as a member of the BBYO staff community, I thank you for the opportunity to create and receive so much hesed, as a colleague, teacher, and friend. Thank you for the work you do, for each other, for all Israel, and all the world. Amen.

This Shabbat Message was written by outgoing Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub, Rabbi Zac Kamenetz.


A Story... -- Shabbat Message 12/5/14

Posted on 12/05/2014 @ 12:00 PM

I'd like to tell you a story. Side note of introduction: I learned this story from a friend, Miriam, who learned it at camp (Morasha - right down the road from Perlman), when she was around 10 years old. She heard it from her counselor, Rookie Billet. Both the story, and the person who told it to her, stuck with her for well over a dozen years before the story was written down.

There was once a court case that was brought based on the following incident: an accident had occurred at a place where train tracks and a road intersect. One night, a car was stopped on the tracks, and the train comes along and - BOOM – smashes directly into the car, and everyone in the car is killed.

The family members of the people that were in the car sue the train company for being totally liable in not being careful enough in traveling over the tracks.

And so, at the case, each side brings their case and their witnesses. The star witness for the defense (the train company) is the night watchman whose job it was to patrol that area and make sure that cars and people were aware if a train would be passing through.

So the night watchman takes the stand, and the lawyers begin to ask him questions.

“Were you there the night of the accident?”

“Yes sir.”

“And did you see what happened?”

“Yes sir.”

“And can you tell the court what happened that night?” “Well, I was sitting at my post, and I saw the car was stopped. I knew the time was close for the train to be coming through, so I went outside and I start waving my lantern in front of the car. I wave my lantern, and I wave my lantern and I’M WAVING MY LANTERN AND THEY DIDN’T MOVE” (Imagine at this point my friend trying to show the visual of him waving his arms and getting frantic) “And I saw what happened… and it was terrible.”

With that, the case is dropped. It was clear that the train company did what they were supposed to, and it seems that it was the fault of the people in the car for what happened.

So the train executives are ecstatic, and they are celebrating. One of them looks over and sees the night watchman sitting alone. And he is crying. And he is shaking. And he is sobbing and sobbing. The train company exec walks up to him and says: “What’s the matter with you? You just won our case!”

And the night watchman answers: “I know I did. And I know I told the truth up there and I answered every question the lawyer asked me. But I don’t know what I would have said if he had asked me if the light in my lantern was lit.”

My friend usually paused here. and then she asked the big question: Did the watchman do anything wrong? Did he break any rules? No, not really - but yes, certainly. What happened was the difference between going through the motions and really doing it right.

So - - Is your light lit? Are you just going through the motions - or really making a difference?

Shabbat shalom, Rachel


Our Grandchildren's Gratitude - - A visual Shabbat & Thanksgiving Message -- 11/27/2014

Posted on 11/28/2014 @ 11:00 AM

We're making it easy on you this week - just sit back, turn your speakers up, and enjoy a visual Shabbat message! (transcription is below, for easy link clicking)

Our Grandchildren's Gratitude by The BBYO DJEs on Prezi:


Shalom & Happy Thanksgiving! The Jewish Enrichment Team


We’ve got a lot to be thankful for. And when we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we might articulate some of the things that we are thankful for. But the question that bothers me on this Thanksgiving eve is: Will our grandchildren be able to feel gratitude for the world that they inherit from us?

Recent headlines might fill you with despair. Turmoil in Ferguson, a Druze policeman and 4 rabbis in their tallit and tefillin murdered savagely at a synagogue in Jerusalem, and an article in the New York Times about the disappearance of glaciers from Glacier National Park, among others. The business of social activism can feel so overwhelming – when there’s so much wrong in the world, how can I begin to make things right?

“You aren’t obligated to complete the task, but you are nevertheless still obligated to work on it” (Pirke Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 2:21). Climate change, for example, can feel so daunting. You might ask: “What can I do to reduce the carbon emissions that are warming up our planet?” To this, there are some good answers:

Arm yourself with knowledge. Climate change is a serious matter, and it’s important to do some research on it. I’d suggest starting with David Roberts’ Tedx Talk, “Climate change is simple”, and acclaimed climate change scientist James Hansen’s Ted Talk, “Why I must speak out about climate change.

Be an advocate. Check out – a global climate change movement that our global Jewish teen movement can partner with on climate change advocacy (here’s a 1.5 minute video clip explaining visually what 350 is!). You can also advocate in our regular work – for example, check out “The Environmentally Friendly Conference.”

Teach your teens and community about climate change. There is so much in Jewish tradition that speaks to the imperative to care for the earth. “G-d took Adam and placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). We are still partners with G-d in creation – and it’s our obligation to continue to guard creation.

Partner with others committed to the cause. There are awesome Jewish organizations working on this issue too. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and Hazon are doing extraordinary work on climate change – especially in this shmita year (check out Hazon’s Shmita Project). Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a grassroots organization committed to advocating for a carbon tax (“Carbon Fee & Dividend”). And there are many other organizations, communities, and individuals out there doing great work too.

So here’s the task: Click on any of the links in the message and spend a couple minutes or longer learning more about climate change. And then to do something meaningful to advocate on behalf of this important issue.

The work that we do on this issue is deeply personal. We do it so that one day our grandchildren may look at us and say: “Grandma/Grandpa, thank you for helping to make sure the world is a safe place for me to live in.”

Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!

(This Shabbat message was written with gratitude by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Eastern Hub).


Can we find hope, maybe next week? -- Shabbat Message 11/21/14

Posted on 11/21/2014 @ 11:00 AM

This week we read that Isaac and Rebecca conceive a child after twenty years.  Though ecstatic, it is said the Rebecca has a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her.”   God tells Rebecca that she is carrying two nations.  This famous imagery from Parshat Toldot provides a backdrop to the fighting in the Middle East that we see today.  Rebecca eventually gives birth to Esau, who is said to be a “father” of Islam and Jacob, who continues the bloodline of the Israelites.  The fighting between the two young brothers is often seen as a foreshadowing of the unfortunate ongoing conflict between the Israelis and her neighboring brothers.

This past week, tragedy came to our Homeland. Terror attacks appear on the rise with diminishing hope in sight. The pictures – and the future – seem bleak.

But perhaps there will be a light at the end of this dark tunnel - when we look ahead in the Torah, past the young, fighting Jacob and Esau. Next week, in Parshat Vayishlach we will see that Jacob wants to reconcile with his brother but fears Esau is on a war path.  He sends his family away and meets with Esau who has an army of 400 men.  Instead of committing acts of war, Jacob and Esau embrace and part ways.  There is no blood shed and no war between them.

This past week 85 BBYO teen leaders joined over 400 teens at the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit.  There they learned how to strengthen the US-Israel relationship through the political process and advocated on Capitol Hill.  Just like the phrase והיפדרו םולש שקב (bakesh shalom v’rodfeihu - seek peace and pursue it), our teens were taught that peace does not just happen, and that we must learn and embrace all sides of the conflict in order to pursue it.

In the Torah this week we see children warring.  Yet next week they mature and reconcile.  How can we be the agents of the change we wish to see, helping our teens learn and pursue, and thus bringing us all closer to peace to the Middle East?

This Shabbat Message was written by ILSI co-directors, Aleeza Lubing & Joey Eisman


What's in it for Me? -- Shabbat Message 11/14/14

Posted on 11/14/2014 @ 01:00 PM

In the spirit of the incredible amount of quoting others that takes place in parshat Chayei Sarah, I wish to share two important pieces that came out this week. Taken together, these offer inspiration, motivation, and a challenge for the work we do, every day, with all fibers of our being.

The first comes from Jack Wertheimer and Steven Cohen, two significant researchers of contemporary American Jewry:

… the most effective initiatives share three critical features. (1) They create social networks that enhance interactions among Jews centering on matters of Jewish interest. (2) They target individuals in the same stages of life, enabling them to heighten their involvement in Jewish life along with their peers. And (3) they communicate Jewish content by exposing learners to sacred texts and the cultural heritage of the Jewish people.

As a response, Rabbi Daniel Smokler, Hillel’s new Chief Innovations Officer highlights the importance of education, and more specifically, content-rich education:

...Once engaged in content-rich Jewish learning, moreover, Jews of all ages can come to know and to possess a sense of transcendent purpose at once life-giving and defiantly at variance with today’s faddish and often deadening emphasis on self-centered experience. Encountering the accumulated wisdom of a civilization with its own highly developed, deeply principled, and time-tested views on the largest existential and ethical issues faced by human beings, they can come to know and to recapture for themselves the bedrock courage and conviction that have differentiated and sustained both Judaism and the Jews through the ages…

As BBYO staff and stakeholders across North America and the world, we should take heart that our programs—from a chapter meeting in Akron, Ohio to a Shabbat dinner in Atlanta with over 2,500 global Jewish teens—give our teens that ‘transcendent purpose’ of belonging and involvement. We should also take Wertheimer, Cohen, and Smokler’s challenge to heart: how are we sharing Jewish content that also provides that inspires that feeling of ‘being part of something bigger’ than themselves?

Looking for a dose of easily accessible and meaningful Jewish content? Join BBYO’s first Global Day of Jewish Learning Online Event on Sunday November 16th at 3PM Eastern. Click here for more details!

This Shabbat message was written by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub


Where are you going? – Shabbat Message 10/31/2014

Posted on 10/31/2014 @ 12:00 PM

We just don’t know what the future will bring. And sometimes, we don’t even know where we’re going next. How can you go somewhere or do something if you don’t know the destination or the goal? (Clearly I have been listening to the “Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind” messages from CLTC!)

This is not a new problem. In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Lech Lecha, we read: “And G!d said to Avram, ‘Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1).

Ehem, um, excuse me, but what land would You like me to go to again? Should I take the Turnpike or the Parkway, the 405 or the 10, the Dan Ryan or the Eisenhower? Can You at least plug it into my GPS?

In a few weeks we’ll see this same lack-of-clarity in Parshat Vayeira during the binding of Isaac (the parsha for AZA and BBG Global Shabbat): “And G!d said: 'Take now your son, your only son, who you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you’ (Genesis 22:2).

So let me get this straight – You’re telling me to go all the way to Moriah, but You’re not telling me where in Moriah to go?

In both cases the destination is not clear…and maybe there’s something to that:

Maybe it really is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe the journey is our end-in-mind. Sometimes we just need to choose a direction and go. Getting stuck or remaining stagnant won’t help us move forward – even if we don’t know actually where we’ll end up, if we know we’re going in the right direction, that can be enough.

And so this is for you, BBYO professionals, advisors, and teen leaders: Lech Lecha – go forth! We may not know exactly where we’ll end up, but know with certainty that we’re on the right path. And remember to Look Up – if you’re looking down at your GPS, you might actually miss the most important things along the way.

Shabbat Shalom!

This Shabbat Message was written by Ira Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Eastern Hub


ALL HAIL... SATAN? -- Shabbat Message 10/24/14

Posted on 10/24/2014 @ 01:00 PM

Hooves? Nope.

Red-skinned? Uh-Uh.

Not even horns? Nah.

Yeah…but evil, right? Depends on your definition, but not likely.

Many of us are familiar with the character of Satan from popular culture and various religious traditions-- God’s nemesis, pure evil, ruler of Hell--but ha-Sa’tan, ‘the Accuser’ of the Hebrew Bible has probably done more good than most Biblical characters. Some say he pushed Eve into the Tree of Knowledge and convinced God to test Abraham with Isaac’s sacrifice. In his greatest appearance, it is Satan who convinces God to make the righteous man Job suffer horribly, only to see if Job’s faith was selfless or not.

Satan is, at his core, a figure who pushes the envelope. He shows the flaws in the system and exposes assumptions, especially when they are about God.

For all of the beauty, history, and inspiration the Bible has given the Jewish people and the world, the book as a whole is a tragic story. God, who yearns for a kingdom of priests, mostly gets stuck with unrighteous and undeserving human beings. Anxious to prove all attempts to create a covenant with human beings are not in vain, God calls upon Satan to witness that there could be at least one success story—but the results are never truly in God’s favor. Satan, especially in the story of Job, pokes holes in the some of the most fundamental ideas in the Bible: that human righteousness and God’s favor have anything to do with each other, and that God cannot be all-powerful and unconditionally loving at the same time. God, so Satan tells us, has some growing up to do, too.

On November 16th, BBYO, led by our Kallah ’14 community, will be participating in this year’s Global Day of Jewish Learning. This year’s topic is Heroes and Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book. BBYO will host a session at 3:00 pm eastern taught by two of our talented Kallah ‘14 educators, Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum and Tali Adler, and moderated by Marni Rein from Atlanta Council. BBYO teens, staff, and stakeholders are invited to an On Air Google Hangout to learn all over the world about Judaism’s most vile villian -- or helpful hero, depending on where you’re standing.

Click here to sign up. More details will follow about this unique way to further our global movement’s Jewish enrichment.

This Shabbat Message was written by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub


Harvest for the Hungry -- Sukkot Message 10/7/2014

Posted on 10/08/2014 @ 12:00 PM

Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday. It’s all about connecting with the outdoors and celebrating my favorite season – the fall. Just as the neighbors are starting to put out their cornucopias and gourds, I’m in the backyard hanging out with family and friends in the sukkah. The autumn leaves are starting to turn; the squirrels are stashing away their little acorns for the winter; and the cold nip in the air suggests that the season is changing.

Even though Sukkot comes on the heels of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it’s not directly related to the High Holiday themes of reflection and repentance. Rather, Sukkot is an agricultural celebration – a time to gather-in the fall harvest. Sukkot provides us the opportunity to re-connect with the land and its bounty – to get out into nature and remind ourselves that the produce of the earth gives us nourishment and sustenance. We eat our meals in those little huts, decorated with fruits and greenery, and we take up the willow, palm, myrtle and citron, shaking the lulav and etrog in all directions. The sukkah has an open view of the sky, and – in our backyard – the floor is dirt and grass. What better way to marvel at all the gifts that the land has given us? The signs of the earth’s fruitfulness are the backdrop for our eating and relaxing in the sukkah.

Yet, at the same time, we recognize that hunger exists all around us. Indeed, the land is plentiful, and food is abundant, but over 50 million people in the US go hungry – 1 out of every 6 Americans. I see it every day when I walk to the office and any number of panhandlers ask me for money so they can buy something to eat (I usually carry granola bars and offer them one). Hunger is a problem that affects all of us – and it’s a problem that each of us can impact.

Throughout the fall, BBYO is raising awareness and taking action to fight hunger through our Can-Tribute Campaign and the Mockingjay movie premieres. As a movement, BBYO will collect thousands of pounds of food and engage thousands of teens in hunger relief projects over the next two months – at conventions, chapter meetings, Global Shabbat, community-wide WOW programs and through social media. These efforts reach uninvolved teens through raising BBYO’s visibility locally while also showing our commitment to tackling a big issue that makes a difference in the world. Jewish values unite our movement and inspire us to take action.

We’ve come a long way in deepening our connection to Jewish values through the outstanding work of our DJEs and the Jewish Enrichment Team. Hunger is not just a problem in our world – it’s a problem that calls for a Jewish response . Throughout our fall campaigns, the DJEs are working across the Order with staff, teens and advisors to frame hunger through a Jewish lens and to pick out those texts, traditions, rituals and stories that give clarity and purpose to our collective action.

As we look back over two years since the DJE initiative launched, I’m delighted to share with you an executive summary document that lays-out our Jewish Enrichment strategy in BBYO. Please take a look and feel free to share with partners and community organizations seeking to know more about how BBYO provides meaningful Jewish experiences for our teens.

Whenever people come to the Schwartz/Kessel sukkah, they ask what they can bring. This year, I’m telling them to bring a bag of canned goods. I’m tying it back to the fruits of the fall harvest in ancient times, which our ancestors donated to the Temple in Jerusalem. While there’s need in Jerusalem, there’s also need right here in Washington, so I’m donating the food to our local shelter to help alleviate hunger in my community. The need is particularly great, as pantries stock-up for Thanksgiving and the winter ahead. I encourage you to join with me, and donate a bag of cans locally for every meal you and your guests enjoy in the sukkah.

Wishing you a meaningful Sukkot where the values and traditions of the holiday lead us to action on behalf of the hungry.

This message was written by Rabbi David Kessel, Chief Program Officer


What's Standing in Our Way? -- Shabbat and Yom Kippur Message 10/2/2014

Posted on 10/03/2014 @ 12:00 PM

Earlier in the week, Aleeza introduced us to the BBYO Yom Kippur Challenge. She creatively encouraged us to identify those things in our lives that “stand in our way,” and then to cast those things off. Like the Jewish tradition of tashlikh – of casting bread into a body of water to symbolize the casting away of our sins. In the traditional liturgy, when we atone for our sins on Yom Kippur, we atone in the plural. It is not only for my sins – it is also for our sins. The BBYO word cloud shows us some of things that get in our way from achieving our purposes. So, in that vein, we encourage you to add the following text to your Yom Kippur experience.


For our sin of:

Stress – when we become overwhelmed by everything we need to do and stop being productive or effective. May we take deep breaths in those moments and gain the clarity and calm that we need to be our best selves.

Anxiety – when we are overcome by that email we forgot to respond to, or by an approaching program that is not yet finished. May we have the ability to plan far in advance and to anticipate as much as possible so that we are able to proactively address any and all surprises.

Self-doubt – when setbacks convince us that our areas of improvement outweigh our talents, and that we aren’t as good at our jobs as we thought we were. May we have a supportive community around us who can remind us of our talents and strengths, and how important we are in this role.

Working late – when working late nights and weekends seems to become the norm. May we learn to manage our time more effectively and to take care of ourselves better. May we enjoy the comradery of late night and weekend work when it is inevitable.

Procrastination – when you still haven’t gotten to that important task that you’ve been putting off for a while now. May we find the motivation and courage that we need in order to tackle those tasks which are the most essential, knowing that there will be fulfillment and freedom when they are complete.

Gossip – when you find yourself engaging in lashon hara – slander or negative talk of a teen, colleague, or community member. May we actively work to avoid speaking or listening to slander of any sort, and attempt to redirect conversations in positive directions instead.

Envy – when you wish you had what somebody else in the organization has instead of them. May we take pride in ourselves and our roles, knowing full well that what you are doing makes a tremendous impact on those around you.

For all these sins, G-d of Forgiveness, Forgive us, Pardon Us, and Atone for us.

In this season of self- and communal-improvement, we can work together and we can help each other become better people and better professionals. We have purposes in this organization and in this life. Yom Kippur is a day that asks us to get better at achieving them.

This message was written by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment of the Eastern Hub


From Where do you Find Comfort? -- Rosh Hashana Message 9/24/14

Posted on 09/24/2014 @ 12:00 PM

So often in our lives we let great moments pass us by. As professionals working for a youth movement, our energy and focus goes to our teens. What are we doing to motivate them? What do they need to be successful? In the spirit of the High Holidays, we look inwards before making outward changes. The same way that our teens are challenged, so too will we be challenged, to make the most of these moments and find inspiration in the work we do.

For many people t’fillah, or any type of ritual or prayer, pulls us out of our comfort zone. It is both an intentional part of Judaism, and a challenging one, as our prayers and rituals are meant to make us question, struggle, and find purpose in what we do. At a time like Rosh Hashanah, when there are so many moments to choose from, it’s also nice to find those that are comforting to us, and remind us of the things we love about Judaism. Here are some of our field leadership’s favorites:


"Growing up, my dad used to lead the singing of Avinu Malkeinu at our congregation's high holiday services. Hearing it each year brings me back to my childhood."


"My favorite ritual at Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar. It's symbolic to me of something special-- an "announcement" of a new year and a reminder of the fact that I'm part of something bigger that has been taking place forever."


"I really only eat apples and honey once a year on Rosh Hashanah. That first bite brings me back to the great atmosphere and smells in my Great Aunt's hpise, with the whole family. Brisket roasting with steamed vegetables, tzimmes...mmmmm."

Where will you find your comfort this Rosh Hashanah and embrace the holiday season?

Shana tova u’metukah – wishing you all a sweet and healthy new year!


Shofar so Good?

Posted on 09/19/2014 @ 10:00 AM

Two summers ago, I arrived for my very first time at Perlman Camp. While walking around camp, I stumbled upon a building that looked like something out of a scene from “True Detective.” There were books lying around, but also large pieces of broken and long-unused electronics. A slumping black garbage bag revealed neglected acrylic tallises, but also a small pile of unimpressive shofars—the kind you might get at the very last minute of an Israel trip to give to your Hebrew-school teacher. I liberated one of them, figuring I could use it to teach at a convention in the fall.

It quickly became apparent why someone had interned it to its plastic bag of a grave—the thing was almost impossible to blow. The best it could manage were a few sustained squeaks, nothing exceptional, and certainly not the kind of shofar you would bring to shul on the High Holidays. As is the custom, I would blow it every morning of the month leading up to Rosh HaShanah, but at home, probably muttering something like “This shofar sucks” before puffing out the last cry of an injured wild animal.

The month of Elul is almost over, and again this year my shofar has been more cacophonous than inspiring, until this past Monday. I did nothing different—I put it to my lips, held it just so, and yet instead of that familiar squeal, a bright, piercing TOO-TOO-TOO emerged. I was immediately full of regret, and close to shame. There had never been anything wrong with the shofar, only that I never believed I could do something differently to make it sing its true song. In my heart, I had closed every door to believing in the possibility of change. I couldn’t help but ask: God, if I’m acting like this with the shofar, how much more so in my relationships with other people, and with myself?

All of us could switch out this story’s shofar with some other object, person, group, or place in which we initially saw hope or potential and believed things to be a certain way, only to have our expectations unmet and our faith, in them or it, diminish. We could go our entire lives believing ‘it is what it is’, but Judaism, and our calendar in particular, refuses to accept this approach to the human condition.

Rosh HaShanah is not merely ‘the beginning of the year (shanah)’, but is the beginning of personal and communal transformation (shinah), if we let it be. What do you still need to do in the next week to change the convenient stories of your life? What relationships have you stopped believing in that could desperately use your faith and commitment right now?

Wishing you and your families a Shanah/Shinah Tovah.

This Shabbat Message was written by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Western Hub


What Made Kallah so Special?

Posted on 09/12/2014 @ 12:00 PM

Friends – This reflection on Kallah was recently shared with us. I promise, I didn’t prompt it!  Enjoy - - and Shabbat shalom! - Rachel

Kallah 2014 has been one of the best and most meaningful experiences in my entire life.

But what makes it so special? What makes Kallah so life changing? It's because WE want it to be life changing. We take an active role in creating who we will be, as individuals and as a community. Being Jewish means being part of the Jewish community and the Jewish people. We share common values, common ideas, and the collective passion to ensure a bright future for the Jewish people.

To achieve this bright future, we must first live and learn in the present. We have done so throughout Kallah with three simple steps, which together compose the educational framework of BBYO.

We started with identify. We identified who we are, as Jews and as human beings. We identified the components of Judaism which we want to learn about, and we identified with our inner-self. We acknowledged our fears, and rid ourselves of them, as we recognized we have nothing, holding us back, except ourselves.

After we succeeded in identifying, we proceeded to connect. We were encouraged to connect with others. As Jews, we are stronger together than we are apart. We prioritized our relationships with others, the others that make up our holy community, our Kehillah Kedoshah. We tackled challenges. We had been connected together as one. We closed the second week of Kallah bonding together as a community. We each made a commitment stating how we will ensure the success of the Jewish people, and even more importantly, we used our newly created bonds as sources of accountability to keep us working toward our goals.

Finally, we improved. Improved ourselves, each other, and the world. We improved ourselves by taking in what we learned, reshaping our own opinions and perspectives. We improved each other by pushing one another to our greatest potential and by giving the greatest support network one can imagine - one based upon trust, genuine compassion, and love. Through improving ourselves and each other, we have improved the world. We have sparked motivation and passion, but most importantly, we have developed an understanding for what needs to be done in the world, and have set ourselves on the right path to fixing it. We are not fixing the world because we have to, but because of our - our pride in the world we live in. Pride in ourselves, pride in our community, pride in America, pride in Israel, pride in Judaism and being a Jew. I am confident that this pride shall never fade, this pride shall last forever.

Looking back, I realize how much I have learned. Not by getting answers, but by developing more insightful and meaningful questions. I understand this is the true way to learn within Judaism, not to find out what is true, but to comprehend there is no such thing as true, rather various opinions and perspectives. I have learned from Kallah that it's not about the solution or destination. Rather, it is about the journey - the path we take in order to get to that destination and who we meet along that path. And as I have continued on my path throughout Kallah, I have met some pretty amazing people. People who really get me, and understand who I am. Kallah has inspired me to ask more questions, to be myself, not let anything hold me back, and to make the most of the relationships I develop with every single person I meet.

Kallah has brought me back to my roots, and given me the motivation to uphold the tradition of the past - years of hardship, years of persecution, years of struggle. Those before me have always persevered, so it is my turn to do the same. It is my responsibility, my honor, to take advantage of my connection to Judaism, revitalized and enhanced by Kallah, in order to maintain and strengthen the might, power, and will of the Jewish people.

I have been so incredibly lucky to have this experience, and I am beyond ecstatic to give back. To give back to this Kallah Kehillah Kedoshah which has given me so much. And furthermore, to give back to the Jewish community through my actions and words, within BBYO – and beyond.

Elliott Davis, Aleph S'gan of Brandeis AZA #1519, BBYO Northern Region East: DC Council


Shall We Overcome?

Posted on 09/05/2014 @ 12:00 PM

I learned songs of the civil rights movement years before I learned zmirot (Jewish songs). In elementary school, we sang This Little Light of Mine. In middle school, it was Lift Every Voice and Sing. And it was always We Shall Overcome.

I’m from Teaneck, New Jersey, a bastion of Jewish life with over a dozen kosher restaurants and synagogues. Yet the high school that I attended was a majority African-American. My extraordinary 8th grade science teacher, Mrs. Lacey, was a congregant of Dr. King’s. A picture of Dr. King and Mrs. Lacey stood proudly on her desk in that classroom, and I admired them both. Multiculturalism and diversity were celebrated and valued – they were the words on my school’s walls, and the subjects of so many school programs and assemblies. They are values that inform, to a significant extent, who I am today.

Our nation mourns the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The event is immediate, but the story is not new. On April 10, 1990 in Teaneck, NJ, before the teens in our programs were born, Phillip Pannell – an African American 16-year-old – was shot in the back and killed by a white police officer. As a child, I vividly remember my parents’ grief and regret. As an adult today, I have inherited the regrets of my parents – that our country continues to seriously struggle with issues of race and that yet another African-American young man has lost his life after an altercation with the police.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a spot-on and compelling editorial called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” that argues that all Americans – white, black, and other – should focus more on race and not less. This leads me to ask: Do we in the Jewish community have a particular responsibility? Here are a couple thoughts:

  1. As Jews have struggled throughout our history against oppression and anti-Semitism, we have benefitted significantly from the kindness of those “righteous among the nations” who have helped us. We have an obligation to repay this same kindness to others.
  2. Similarly, from a Biblical perspective, we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and therefore must protect “strangers” today and everybody in society in need of support.
  3. What good is a Judaism that operates in a vacuum? In fact, it is actually forbidden for a synagogue to be built without windows (Talmud Berachot 31a). We must be aware of the outside world, and actively work to make things better.
  4. Jews, like African-Americans, have struggled with negative societal perceptions for so long. Let’s all ask the big question: “How are we seen?” and try to see each other and ourselves in a more positive and authentic light.

We cannot allow indifference or apathy to get in our way. The “We” in “We Shall Overcome” needs to include the Jewish community and BBYO teens. We can be a light to the nations. We can lift each other up. And then we shall overcome - together.

This Shabbat message was written by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment in the Eastern Hub


How do You Sit at the Table?

Posted on 08/29/2014 @ 12:00 PM

Last week I found myself sitting at a table with a group of youth engagement professionals from across the country. For many of us, this is not an atypical experience. Yet, somehow it felt different this time. As a part of the current cohort for Hebrew Union College’s Certificate in Jewish Education, I was with professionals from across the Jewish teen world. Synagogue youth directors, camp directors and youth engagement specialists alike came together to learn and study topics critical to working with teens. Despite our different backgrounds, communities and youth movements, our conversations shared a common theme on how to advance our work with teens at a time that is critical to ensuring their Jewish identity, affiliation and participation as adults.

We discussed the growing entrepreneurial spirit teens have for social justice. In thinking about this week’s parasha, Shoftim, I am reminded about the ways in which we strive for social justice. In Shoftim we see the phrase, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” justice, justice you shall pursue. I can’t help but question the repetition of the word tzedek in the verse. Rav Elya Meir interprets that we must act with righteousness in our pursuit of righteousness.

Often in our work as youth professionals, we reference this Jewish principle to inspire action amongst our teens. How often though do we remind our teens of the obligation to act righteously in their pursuit of justice for others? How often do we remind ourselves? As our teens join us at the table this year, we must bring with us a foundation of righteousness as we work to pursue their hopes and dreams. There is great value in what all of us bring to the conversation. By being open to new ideas and utilizing each other’s perspectives we truly show justice through our actions.

Start the new school year sitting at the table with an open mind. Be an advocate for your teens and pursue what is most meaningful for them. Engage in conversation with stakeholders from all across your community. Run after justice with justice, and may we continue to find strength in the perspectives we all bring to the table.

This Shabbat Message was written by Rebecca Cohen, Associate for Campaigns and Movement Initiatives


Why Do Big Questions Matter?

Posted on 08/22/2014 @ 12:00 PM

In Liberty Region, our teens still have a few sweet summer weeks left before the school year gets into full swing. This past Tuesday, Jeff and I had the opportunity to sit down with our Regional Board to communicate our vision for and lay the groundwork for the year ahead. Being such a geographically spread out region, we do not often get the chance to meet with our entire board in person, so we appreciate the few hours we have with them and try to make the most out of this limited time together.

Our opening planning session was centered on a "big question”, inspired by my experience at The Learning Advantage training (TLA) at Capital Camps last week. During TLA, we met with educators from "Ask Big Questions", a Hillel initiative that uses questions as a way to foster meaningful, enriched conversations. We can learn so much about each other by reflecting on one another's answers to big questions, and in turn learn so much more about ourselves.

I began by asking "What is a Liberty Leader?" on a large post-it easel sheet (of course, the most coveted BBYO supply). Teens wrote one word answers on smaller post-its and attached these smaller post-its to the larger sheet one at a time. They shared their responses with the group, and gave an explanation as to why they chose that word, typically borrowing from past experience or their goals as an elected leader.

I admit that I expected some standard answers I have heard time and time again in my long history with BBYO. However, instead of the recycled adjectives "motivated" and "dedicated," I heard "someone not afraid to make change, even if the change is unpopular" and "one who walks the walks, and doesn't just talk to talk". I was blown away--for a newly merged region, we have big moves to make and precedents to set, a daunting task for sure, but our teens perfectly expressed that they are read. They communicated their preparedness simply by answering a single question.

Though I sat for eight hours straight in one place, I left that planning session strangely refreshed. The large post-it sheet already hangs in my office as a constant reminder of the qualities our teen leaders’ value in their peers and themselves, and of which they will strive to exemplify during their terms as officers. These are the same qualities I value in my colleagues, friends and family, and I hope they are the qualities others can one day say they see in me.

This Shabbat message was written by Ari Weisberg, Associate Regional Director, Liberty Region


A Request to Say Thanks

Posted on 08/08/2014 @ 12:00 PM

We were honored to staff this year’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI), particularly during such a moment in Israel’s history. We began our trip by saying Kaddish for Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad at the cemetery (on behalf of everyone in BBYO). It’s fitting that our ILSI theme this year was Home Sweet Home: Learning from the Land of our People, because that is exactly what we did.

We lived some lessons that we might never find the words to express. We immediately became immersed in the culture. We learned to ask the location of the closest bomb shelter. We learned to explain siren procedure before we got off the bus for every single location. The most important thing we learned was to keep on living life as usual! We did as the Israelis did. Almost all our staff had some connection to the IDF. But as long as they smiled, so did we. Our itinerary changed daily (sometimes hourly), but we didn’t stop and we didn’t hide. We added some amazing new things to ILSI this year, built an incredible community, and we had some of the most meaningful conversations that our teens will ever have in their lives.

The most important group of people we have to thank are the IDF soliders. We had a staff member, Baruch, who had to leave us to serve in Gaza. “Why are you so calm about going?” I asked. He simply said, “Because I am going to defend my country, our Jewish Homeland.”

Every day, IDF soldiers put their lives on line to defend Israel. Baruch got 45 minute’s notice to go and serve, and there are thousands of others just like him.

So we ask everyone reading this – staff, advisors, teens, friends, and alumni – to take 5 minutes and thank Baruch and every other IDF soldier. Support our campaign to send personal letters to every IDF soldier, thanking them for all they do to keep Israel safe – so that we can always enjoy and celebrate the deep connection to our Jewish Homeland.

This Shabbat Message was written by Amanda Marcus & Joey Eisman, BBYO staff, ILSI 2014


For What do we Grieve?

Posted on 08/01/2014 @ 12:00 PM

On Monday we celebrated Rosh Hodesh Av, marking the start of the month of Av. While a new month is typically cause for celebration in Jewish life, Av takes on a different note. The first nine days of this month are observed as days of mourning. Traditionally, Jews don’t eat meat or drink wine (except on Shabbat), don’t plan celebratory occasions, and consciously reduce our level of joy, as a commemoration of the destruction of both the first and second Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). Beginning Monday night, the ninth day of the month, Tisha B’Av, is a fast day, and at that point we have reached the full depths of mourning for what was lost. We sit on the floor instead of chairs, and read Megillat Eichah in a tune reserved only for that book on this holiday. By the end of the day we break our fast, returning to chairs, and being open to celebrating what we have as a people.

These nine days and the fast day itself represent a spectrum for all of Jewish history. We recall our darkest days when our greatest structures were destroyed and hope seemed lost, and then look forward, recognizing that even without what was lost, we are a great people, with a great land and important beliefs.

I can’t help but pay close attention to the spectrum this year. The land we call Eretz Yisrael is once again facing a challenge – one that attempts to threaten both land and people. During these nine days, let us allow ourselves to submerge to the depths of despair, recognizing the sacrifices being made by boys and girls, not much older than our members, in an attempt to protect that land. Consider the toll it is taking on their families. Imagine the fear facing our friends and family in Israel, not knowing whether tomorrow will be just another day at work or interrupted by sirens, or even worse. And then, just as with the nine days of Av, we let us all pray that we will find a way to emerge from this dark place, with an eye towards a peaceful future. We don’t know when that will be or what it will look like, but we pray that it will come swiftly, and that everything and everyone that exist in Eretz Yisrael will be free from further destruction.

This Shabbat Message was written by Aleeza Lubin, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Central Hub


What is our Routine?

Posted on 07/25/2014 @ 12:00 PM

This Shabbat, Jews all over the world will come together in a normal routine, unbroken and unchanged for thousands of years. They will light candles, break bread and read from the Torah. This week’s parsha is Parshat Massei, where the journey of Israel is detailed. My month long journey came to a close last week in Jerusalem with Jewish teens from 5 countries celebrating our remaining time together on International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI) 2014. Our normal routine for ILSI 2014 was unique from any other program I have worked…we had none. The program was altered day after day, hour after hour.

Being in Israel during a conflict can be tense, however we were able to provide our teens with a special experience. We may have not been able to execute on all the planned educational pieces or create the experience that we expected, but instead we gave the teens the experience we thought they needed and wanted.

For many people Stateside the conflict is robustly exaggerated and can appear more obtrusive than reality. This was my second time in Israel during a conflict (the first was during the Second Lebanon War in 2006) and I was ready for what I saw. However for many of the teens they were shocked to see that Israel does not become silent - the routine of life continues. Except when saw news alerts on our phones, it appeared as the Operation in Gaza was not a thing. Commerce continued, tourism remained alive and people went through their normal routines.

Unfortunately Israel has a routine; and it includes dealing with offensive and defensive threats to the people and State. The Jewish people continue to remain resilient and prepared for anything that comes our way. The odds are stacked against us, but we are still here. May we find strength in our community and continue from strength to strength.

“When I consider the miracles of the existence of the [Jewish] people, it is greater in my eyes than the exodus from Egypt and all the miracle that Hashem did.” -Introduction to the R’ Yaakov Ewden Siddur

If you are interested in learning more about my experience, the conflict or the Speak UP for Israel initiative this year please let me know. I would happy to speak with you.

This Shabbat Message was written by Joey Eisman, Assistant Director of ILSI and Associate for Israel and Global Jewish Peoplehood


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