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400 teens celebrate at BBYO Connecticut Valley Region Kallah

This story was published in Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

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BBG sisterhood at the recent BBYO Kallah.

By  Jake Pappas and Abby Knopf

Close to 400 BBYO Connecticut Valley Region teens and staff gathered in Hartford for the annual Winter Kallah Convention. This year’s theme was “Free to be you and me: A celebration of diversity in the Jewish Community.”

“To teens, ‘free to be you and me’ is about diversity, inclusion and loving who you are. To our parents, it’s a throw back to the 1970’s movement for equal rights and opportunities for women,” BBG Regional Teen President Nohar Segal said.

Parents and community members were invited to join BBYO teens for Shabbat services, featuring Joshua Nelson, a black Jewish gospel singer, and his band. Created by BBYO teens, the service included a mix of traditional prayers and music. One of the most moving moments of Shabbat services was the memorial service led by Happie Hoffman and Eric Hunker in honor of the 26 students and teachers who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook shooting.

Following services, teens, parents and guests had the opportunity to attend one of four speaker sessions under the umbrella of “Diversity Within the Jewish Community.”

“I spent the morning with 350 Jewish teenagers who chose to spend their weekend together. Chose to pray together. Chose to laugh together. Chose to learn together and chose to cry together,” BBYO parent Betsy Flaherty, who was at the convention, posted on social media. The weekend, wrote Flaherty, sent “a message of inclusion, of acceptance, of lifting each other up and standing strong against those who act in a mean-spirited way towards people who may be different than they are. This event fed my soul … We could all learn a lot from our kids. I know I did.”

The evening featured “Stomp It Out,” a program aimed at dispelling the stigma of mental health issues.

“We wanted teens to see that it was okay to come out on a Saturday night and have a conversation about these issues. They affect people we know and we shouldn’t have to turn our back or hide from difficult conversations,” said David Cohen, BBYO Connecticut Valley Region AZA president.

Partnering with BBYO for the evening event was Hanefesh USY, whose regional convention was in West Hartford that same weekend.

Headlining the event was DJ Earworm, a popular DJ mashup artist on YouTube. In addition, several organizations that work with mental health issues set up booths and hosted activities that engaged teens in conversation and allowed them to learn more about issues and support services available. Besides mental health organizations, participating organizations included Camp Laurelwood, UConn Hillel and AEPi Fraternity.

Segal described the evening as “wall to wall Jewish teens, some were dancing, some were learning about mental health issues, some were talking to AEPi about college and some were inquiring about summer jobs at Camp Laurelwood.”

Next up and last up for BBYO Connecticut Valley Region is Spring Convention.

“We’ve got a really great program in the works,” said Regional Director Tyler Pepe. “We’re going to offer a track specifically for 8th- and 9th-grade teens and we have a really amazing service project planned for Saturday night. We’ve also got a bunch of surprises planned for our last convention of the year.”

For more information about BBYO Connecticut Valley Region, email Tpepe@bbyo.org.

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