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BBYO Shabbat Message of the Week

“We love you; we honor you for who you are”– Shabbat Message 3/27/2015

Posted on 03/27/2015 @ 12:00 PM

“We love you; we honor you for who you are.”

This is the closing mantra that was chanted as participants of the Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ+ teen and Ally Shabbaton bravely shared their fears, hopes, and reflections from the Shabbaton and what would happen when they go home from the safe space.

I had the pleasure of staffing the Keshet/Hazon Shabbaton ( for the second year in a row at the beautiful Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT. Seventy Jewish teens from all around the country from different backgrounds and youth movements attended the Shabbaton with two things in common: 1. they identified as an ally or part of the LGBTQ+ community, and 2. they were Jewish. During the weekend the participants had the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat without the fear of being judged. Instead, they were empowered to create a Kehila Kadosha, a holy community. Diversity was celebrated but overall the main point that was taken away for everyone was: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

This week’s parsha, Parshat Tzav, mentions that a fire on the altar must be kept burning at all times, and in it are burned the wholly consumed ascending offerings. This reminded me of the participants and staff of the Shabbaton who fight every day for inclusion with a fire burning inside of them. It reminded me of the Aleph who has not come out yet because he is afraid of what his chapter will say. It reminded me of the BBG who doesn’t want to talk about which NJB is cute. And it reminded me of the teen who does not identify as being an Aleph or BBG but somewhere in between, and who yearns for a BBYO experience. How can we make their fire burn just as bright? How can we make them feel part of a holy community without shame?

BBYO had 5 alumni and current members that attended the weekend. We talked about inclusion in our youth movement and brainstormed how we can make our BBYO Kehila Kadosha a more welcoming space for teens that fit every shade and gender identity of the rainbow.

When Havdalah came around, we all stood in a circle arms around each other. It didn’t matter what youth movement you came from. In that moment we were part of something bigger: a community that gave us the freedom to let go and love ourselves. The fire of the Havdalah candle burns brightly in your chapter/council/region, and at IC, CLTC, or Isabella Freedman, and it gives us the same feeling of being a part of one holy community who are stronger together. Fire and hope are burning bright in BBYO.

Following the Shabbaton, BBYO participants started an Inclusion Facebook group to further the conversation about inclusion in BBYO. If you or anyone you know are interested in joining this group, or have questions about next year’s Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ+ Ally and teen Shabbaton please email me at Let’s resolve together to create a holy community in BBYO so that everybody will feel welcome and included in AZA and BBG. Let’s love each other and honor each other for who we are.

(This Shabbat message was written by Chelsea Snyder, Associate Regional Director of Pacific Western Region BBYO).


“Forget regret, for life is yours to miss.” -- Shabbat Message 3/20/2015

Posted on 03/20/2015 @ 12:00 PM

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” ― Henry David Thoreau

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’” ― Kurt Vonnegut

“Forget regret, for life is yours to miss.” — Rent

“YOLO” — Every teen at some point or another

We’ve all heard these before. In fact, many of us really embody these ideals, trying to live our lives so that there is no regret for our actions. This week’s parsha, Vayikra, sets up the parameters for how we deal with regret – how we atone when we have broken one of G-d’s (many) rules.

But of course, it’s not a simple set of instructions. There are many ways of atoning, both based on the sin and on who you are. The rabbis teach that the method of “making right” depends on our rationale for “doing wrong”. The Torah says that if we committed our sin unknowingly, then we must be the ones to make the sacrifice to atone for it. However, if we knowingly committed the sin, it is the responsibility of the leaders to take responsibility and also atone.

Why are leaders responsible for someone else who knowingly sins? Often times, people in authoritarian roles believe that there are two separate sets of rules that exist—one for those who are leading and one for those who are following. In reality, this tells us just the opposite. By having one set of rules that applies to everyone, it requires us to lead by example. “Do as I say….” doesn't work in this parsha.

But this text actually seems to take it even further. It puts the requirement for being good role models into a tangible act. If you, Leader, the text says, don’t demonstrate good behavior for your followers to follow, you will have to pay the price (literally, with pidgeons and goat offerings). If we, as staff and leaders, play on our cell phones in the back of the room during a program, then when our teens do the same, we should accept responsibility since we have modelled that behavior. If we, as staff and leaders, do not set aside Shabbat as a time different from the rest of the week – then how can we possibly expect our teens to do so? And yet, it’s so easy to separate ourselves from our leadership roles. “I’m just too busy to stop for a full day.” “They’re all participating in the program, no one will notice if I’m on my phone.”

When we live our lives so that we are proud of our actions and behaving as the example that we want to be, then we are really living without regret.

“No day but today”— Rent

This Shabbat Message was written by Tamar Sternfeld, Regional Director, Dixie Council BBYO.


Preparing to Prepare… Shabbat Message 3/13/15

Posted on 03/13/2015 @ 12:45 PM

We’re in the almost-ready part of the year. It’s almost-spring. It’s almost-planning time for next year. It’s that in between time when you’re thinking about who you’ll invite to your Passover seder, but still thinking about all the pasta we’ll eat this month.

We hang in that almost-ready stage for only a little while. And yet, there is a huge opportunity to take advantage of this pre-planning stage. This is the time when we can think about our biggest goals. Not how many teens will attend CLTC or register for fall convention, but WHY. Why do we want to send teens to CLTC? What is the benefit of membership in BBYO?

(and no, I’m not giving you the answers – I’m just giving you the questions. The answers are your job! But I’ll give you a good hint to get started if you’d like…)

Don’t forget to apply this to other settings – Why do you take the time to prepare for Shabbat – or dressing up nice to go to your Grandparents’ Passover Seder? Why do you work or volunteer for a Jewish organization?

As we enter this almost-ready time, may this be the perfect time to look ahead and make sure you’re driving toward your real goals.

Shabbat Shalom!



The Israel Conversation -- Shabbat Message 3/5/2015

Posted on 03/06/2015 @ 11:45 AM

The world has been focused on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech before the US Congress on Tuesday. Bibi’s Speech (from about 25:00 to 1:06:00) has been widely discussed and debated, and with elections coming up in Israel on Tuesday, March 17th, there will certainly be more to discuss. It’s my hope that we can have more meaningful conversations – on the speech, on elections, on Israeli innovation and creativity, and on all of the various topics that make us proud of and involved with The Jewish State.

One of the ways we encourage that type of constructive dialogue is through attending important national conversations, such as AIPAC Policy Conference. Around 50 BBYO teens participated in the 2015 experience, and here are some of their thoughts:

Attending AIPAC Policy Conference 2015 was an uplifting and inspirational experience. I felt proud of my Jewish identity and at times I was emotionally moved, for example, when singing Hatikvah at the opening ceremony. It meant a lot to me to represent the BBYO community at AIPAC and I enjoyed meeting and speaking with my fellow Alephs and BBG’s. – David Ziman, Westchester

Each time I walked into a room, I felt the passion and intelligence surrounding me. I listened to politicians, outstanding speakers, and heard stories from individuals on how Israel has changed them for the better. I was so moved by what these people were doing to enhance Israel and better the world. I am so lucky to have had this experience. It has only increased my desire to visit and support the land of Israel. – Alexa Herman, DC Council

Nothing could compare to walking into that ginormous room full of 16,000 pro-Israel advocates all of whom had abandoned their political, cultural and economic differences in order to unite under this one shared cause. Each speaker noted what an incredible thing a bipartisan issue in congress is nowadays, each highlighted our part in making Israel a bipartisan issue, and each, despite their political affiliation, pledged their support to maintaining a strong America-Israel relationship. I have never been more confident in the mutually beneficial relationship between America and Israel, and I have never been so inspired to play my part and continue to advocate for the strengthening of that relationship. – Dana Goldenberg, Baltimore Council

Among the many incredible speakers at AIPAC Policy Conference 2015, we were privileged to hear art teacher Yaron Bob discuss his inspiration and dedication to his project, Rockets into Roses. Rockets into Roses takes the remains of rockets that have been fired at Israel, and turns them into beautiful sculptures. Yaron’s perseverance and optimistic perspective were inspiring. Despite the conflict, Yaron hopes to show the world that “the people in Israel are not hungry for war and what they really want is a bright and beautiful future.” And he works, through his art, to turn ugliness into beauty, and to transform that which is destructive into that which can be constructive. After five days at the conference, we were able to learn how to advocate and support Israel, and we look forward to bringing more meaningful Israel education and advocacy back to our local communities and to the international order! – Lauren Keats and Colin Silverman, 71st International N’siah and 91st Grand Aleph Godol

Now, especially now, is a great time to have programs around Israel in our chapters, councils, and regions. BBYO has teamed up with AIPAC and StandWithUS to bring you Teens4Israel where you have the opportunity to engage in political advocacy at your local district office. You can learn more at or you can email Joey Eisman directly.

And when you reach out to Joey, please also wish him a big mazal tov! He won one of AIPAC’s Advisor of the Year Awards for his tireless work to engage BBYO teens around more meaningful Israel education and advocacy. In his honor, and with the eagerness of our teens to get involved in more conversations and programs around Israel, let’s do all that we can to nurture and support these conversations and programs and to build a vibrant pro-Israel community together.

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


With whom do you stand? -- Shabbat Message 2/27/15

Posted on 02/27/2015 @ 11:00 AM

This weekend is Shabbat Zachor – a time when we are commanded to remember all that Amalek (a nation of anti-Israeli fighters) did to the Israelites as they were traveling through the desert. They were intent on destroying the entire people. A brief scan of the headlines might make us think, has anything really changed? Synagogues attacked in Copenhagen. Supermarkets targeted in Paris. Are we still that same group of Jews, trying to make it through our journey, feeling attacked from all sides?

A few weeks ago Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, spoke to the teens at pre-IC summits in Atlanta. During a question and answer period one of the teens asked his thoughts on the current wave of anti-semitism sweeping across the world, and particularly Europe. His response caught me off guard. He talked about the multitude of ways in which he fights for freedom and equality for Christians, Muslims, Catholics, and other faiths. It took me a moment to understand why his response to our need for security had anything to do with his fight for others. He said they needed his help in their fights. He said the victim cannot fight alone. In echoing our message of Stronger Together, he said that what we need is unity to bring an end to the fear that Jewish communities, and all religious communities, are facing. Oppressors need to know that when they act, their victims are not alone in standing up and fighting back.

This is a far cry from Deuteronomy 25: 17-19, where God commands the Israelites to take matters into their own hands: Settle in the land that has been promised, regain some strength, and then destroy the people who tried to destroy you. Our prominent leaders of today are sharing a different message. Build bridges, don’t fight alone. Look beyond yourself to see what others need; everyone will benefit in the long run.

Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Pirkei Avot 1:14

Are you only for yourself?

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


... tradition! - - Shabbat Message 2/20/15

Posted on 02/20/2015 @ 11:00 AM

People often say that God is “all around us” or “where people come together” or “where we pray.” But in this week’s Torah portion (Terumah), there’s another idea of where God is – in (or on) the tabernacle that the Israelites bring along with them as they wander through the desert. It’s not surprising, really, that the Israelites needed something tangible to remind them that God was with them - - they just came from a culture of many gods and physical idols and they were wandering around in a barren wilderness for decades, without apparent destination.

This portion doesn’t just say “they built a box” or even “they built a special box with gold and silver and cherubim on top.” It goes into detail – 98 verses of detail! – so minute it would be possible for anyone to recreate it. But, it wasn’t recreated. It wasn’t supposed to be. So why all the details?

At the weekly Torah group* we struggled with this question. Why give so many details? And we were struck by the parallels to our own BBYO traditions. The tradition isn’t to “open a meeting by saying words of welcome.” There are specific guidelines. These guidelines ensure that every meeting reflects back on the generations of meetings before. The details themselves aren’t important – it’s the attention to those details, the repetition and traditions, that give meaning.

I clearly remember my very first BBYO business meeting experience. Nothing made sense and I couldn’t understand why the boys asked if the room was safe from intruders. But I recognize, especially in this week after one of our movement’s greatest moments in our 90 year history, how central even the smallest detail can be to create something so big. I’ve been singing the BBG pledge song in my head the whole time I’m writing this, and I understanding the importance of passing down those littlest details to keep our beautiful tradition alive.

Shabbat shalom!



Who is your Jethro? -- Shabbat Message 2/6/2015

Posted on 02/06/2015 @ 11:00 AM

How does someone become a leader?

Well, join BBYO, of course, but beyond that - there is no one single answer. Leadership is made up of many components. A leader is a motivator and a champion of others. A leader is modest and has humility. A leader is a student. A good leader surrounds themselves with others who are just as smart, if not smarter than them, because a leader knows that one person shouldn’t be relied on for everything, and the leader certainly doesn’t have all the answers. A leader seeks out – and graciously accepts – feedback from others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, the Israelites have passed through the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians and settled into their trek through the desert. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, visits and sees that each day Moses sets up a post where the people can come to him with problems and disputes.

“But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’” (Exodus 18:14)

In Jethro’s eyes, the mark of a leader is not one who holds all responsibility for themselves. It is one who empowers others. Jethro knew that Moses would never make it if he held all power to himself. Moses begins to argue but ultimately heeds the advice of his father-in-law. Jethro is able to show him that by appointing advisors and creating a system for these disputes, others can take on further responsibility and Moses can free his time for other matters.

This interaction begs the question, who is your Jethro? Who is the person in your life who pushes you to reconsider your actions? Each of us play a role as leaders, but do we surround ourselves by people who will speak the truth, and more importantly, do we take value in what they say? Are we Jethro to others – supporting them and challenging them in equal parts? We need to have Jethros, yes, but we also need to BE Jethro, especially to our teens and peers.

As we move into the spring, take stock of your work and those who surround you. Make it known that you want feedback and to be challenged. When you do this for yourself and for others, you will ultimately take Jethro’s advice and allow others lead alongside you.

This Shabbat Message was written by Aleeza Lubin, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Central Hub. Want to write one yourself? Email and we’ll get you going!


Making Nahshons... -- Shabbat Message 1/30/2015

Posted on 01/30/2015 @ 12:00 PM

This week’s Torah portion, Beshallah, includes the moment when the Israelites, while departing Egypt, hit a wall – of water. The entire nation is together and they all stop. There is no option to go around and there’s a moment of panic. Water is in front of them and the Egyptian army are behind them. Moses tells the people to trust and go into the water, but they are (understandably!) scared. The midrash tells of one individual, Nahshon, who has the ultimate faith in G-d and Moses, and is the one who walks into the water. The water doesn’t part at his toes. It doesn’t part at his waist or even his chest. The midrash says he had to walk into the water up to his nose before it parted. Supported by Moses, Nahshon enables the future of the Israelites.

We lost a great colleague this week. During the funeral for Todd Kay, one of the Rabbis referenced this parsha. He recognized Todd’s similarity to Moses in this scene. He wasn’t the one in the front of the room (or sea), but he enabled everyone else. He created Nahshons who felt supported, encouraged, and empowered to walk into the water.

“You were an incredible mentor throughout my high school years and I was lucky to have known you. You inspired me to become a leader and that was an incredible gift.” (Ben Cutler, Facebook)

“TK's Neshama was felt by everyone in attendance today at Fairmount Temple. If you were lucky enough to have crossed paths with him you are surely thankful. He left a lasting impression on all of us in life and his memory is a blessing to all of us.” (Jane Altman Zoldan, Facebook)

“TK was that special person who makes one feel like they're important all the time, and that they can count on him in everything they’re doing.” (Lane Schlessel, former BBYO staff, at the funeral)

Several of our colleagues were able to attend his funeral yesterday and Ira wrote a very powerful reflection on that experience. (Which is definitely worth reading in its entirety!) One thing that shines through every Facebook message, eulogy, and reflection: Todd is as positive a presence today as he was last week, and we have scores of Nahshons to prove it.

Shabbat Shalom,



Life is Not a Cream Cake – Shabbat Message 1/23/2015

Posted on 01/23/2015 @ 11:00 AM

It was a cold, blustery morning when my delegation visited the shoe memorial next to the Danube River. Sculptures of shoes lined a segment of the river bank, remembering those Jewish victims who were shot and dumped into the river.

Many North American Jews are worried about the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. And there’s certainly plenty of alarming facts to justify this concern. Two weeks ago, the world watched in shock as terrorists murdered innocent employees at the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo and Jews at a kosher supermarket in France. We said “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis Juif” in solidarity, and we wonder about the future for Jews in France.

From the outside, Hungary is not much different. Jobbik (pronounced “Yo-Bik”), a frightening far-right wing and anti-Semitic political party in Hungary, won 20% of the overall vote in the last election. Hungary recently completed a World War II memorial that depicted the Germans victimizing the Hungarians. It did not acknowledge the Jews or Hungary’s role in deporting and murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews in just 4 months at the end of the war. And there is fear that the current government is attempting to centralize its power in ways that resemble a dictatorship. Our witty and bright tour guide, when bringing us to Hungary’s Parliament Building, quipped: “Such a big building for so little democracy.”

But when we asked the young Jewish Hungarian nonprofit professionals at the Israeli Cultural Institute what their top 5 priorities were as a Jewish community, anti-Semitism wasn’t on the list. In fact, is was specifically not on the list. The Hungarian Jewish community leaders, when asked, made it clear that they don’t want to be identified by anti-Semitism.

Instead, they highlighted other focus areas like “Inclusion” (they are one of the few communities that welcomes the LGBTQ community) and “Sustainability” (they are working to develop a culture of fundraising and giving back to the community). There are 100,000 Jews in Budapest. And they mostly define themselves as “cultural” and “not religious.” In fact, one person we spoke to said that members of his family hadn’t been to synagogue in 120 years, so why would he start now? He is proudly Jewish, and a leader at the JCC. The Pew Study highlighted the trend that North American Jews are identifying less with Judaism as a religion. Imagine what Pew would say about Hungarian Jews! And yet, they have a vibrant community – and they can teach us a thing or two about how to sustain a dynamic Jewish community that identifies primarily as “culturally Jewish.”

I asked our tour guide if she had thought about moving from Hungary if things continued to get worse. Barring really explicit danger, the answer seemed to be no – Hungary was her home. She loves the sour cherry strudel and the Danube, even though it flows with the memory of the blood of Jewish Holocaust victims. She sighed, and then she taught us the Hungarian phrase that would become the motto of our trip: “Life is not a cream cake.”

Ira Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Eastern Hub, recently returned from a trip to Hungary and Israel with JPRO.


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


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