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BBYO teens come together to celebrate diversity

This story was published in The Jewish Voice.

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Enjoying the Winter Kallah are (left to right) Julia Keizler, Classical High School; Andrew Bikash, East Greenwich High School; Lauren Robinson, Franklin High School in Massachusetts.

By COURTNEY WEINER

BBYO’s annual winter Kallah, held at the Hilton Hartford Hotel in Connecticut in late January, drew 85 New England Region teens and 240 from the Connecticut Valley Region for a weekend of celebrating Shabbat, learning about leadership, themselves and the world around them, becoming closer to their Jewish heritage and creating new friendships.

The theme for this year’s Kallah, or convention, was “Free to Be You and Me.” Activities began Friday night with peer-led interactive and educational programs on the current refugee crisis and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Jenna Rachman, 18, who attends Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, in Massachusetts, and is the New England Region’s nazkirah-gizborit (secretary-treasurer), is no stranger to conventions, but she said she found these programs particularly worthwhile.

Rachman said both programs gave her a better appreciation for and perspective on globalization, an important issue for BBYO, a pluralistic Jewish teen movement.

When asked about the refugee crisis program, she said, “I was able to learn so much about this global issue from the perspectives of other countries.”

Saturday afternoon featured speakers and discussions based on the convention’s theme. Victoria Berman, a freshman at Cranston High School West, attended a session with comedian Pamela Schuller and said she was inspired “to see how she turned her disadvantage into an advantage.” Schuller has Tourette’s Syndrome, and uses it to advocate for inclusion and as a basis for her stand-up comic act.

Schuller was just one of the many inspiring speakers on Saturday who emphasized diversity. Others included transgender LGBTQ activist and journalist Dawn Ennis, BBYO Grand Aleph Godol (President) Aaron Cooper, gospel singer Joshua Nelson and activist Emily Wyner. Teens left their sessions with more knowledge of the different ways to define diversity and how to be accepting of others.

Another first-time convention attendee, Fiona Traub, 16, of Natick High School, in Massachusetts, said she chose to attend the Kallah “because members of my chapter said that this would be the best weekend of my life” – and they were right. It was great, Traub said, to be surrounded by “such a supportive community.”

When asked about the experience for a new convention attendee, Isaac Wolfson, 17, also from Natick High School, said the weekend was a game-changer for many.

“These kids will never be the same, but in the best possible way,” he said.

COURTNEY WEINER attends Stoughton High School, in Massachusetts, and is a member of BBYO New England Region.

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