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As Brandeis AZA Turns 50, Two Presidents Talk

Read this story in the Washington Jewish Week

This year, Brandeis AZA, a local chapter of BBYO's high school fraternity, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Josh Frieder, the chapter's 100th godol (president) sits down with Bernie Weisz, who is being honored at tonight's BBYO Gala and served as godol of Brandeis from 1974-1975. Together, the two presidents compared being a Jewish teen leader in D.C. in the 1970s and now.

Frieder: What did Brandeis AZA "Stand UP" for when you were a teen? What were the most important issues of the time? Weisz: I remember going to a candlelight vigil on the National Mall where we demonstrated for the refuseniks - Russian Jews' right to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. We also spent Christmas day each year visiting and interacting with patients at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a facility for patients suffering from mental health issues. Today, Brandeis AZA's Stand UP campaign focuses on Alzheimer's research. It is important for today's teens to know that it is a part of the AZA and BBYO history and tradition to care for others and our community through service and advocacy.

How did you connect with Israel in the 70s? I attended a Summer Experience in Israel with BBYO in 1974 and still have many close friends from that trip. Having had parents who were Holocaust survivors, traveling to Israel and witnessing the Jewish state myself was definitely a memorable and life-changing experience. Now, 38 years later, being a part of BBYO still allows us the same opportunity to form a connection with Israel. We visit during Summer Experiences and through Speak UP, BBYO's Israel education and advocacy efforts, we learn how to be effective champions for Israel.

What did brotherhood mean to you then? What does it mean to you now? In the case of Brandeis, brotherhood meant having a common bond and commitment to all of the members in our chapter. AZA appeals to all shapes and sizes and there is no popularity contest; as long as you are a good Jewish guy, BBYO is the place for you. Today, my definition of brotherhood has expanded to be more universal to include my Jewish brothers and sisters throughout the world. Frieder: Weisz' definition of brotherhood is similar to mine. To me, brotherhood means having a community that will always support and accept you. I will be there for my brother Alephs forever and I know that they will be there for me in return.

What do you think young Jewish men take away from being in AZA and BBYO? Young Jewish men have amazing opportunities to excel on many levels as a result of participation in AZA and BBYO. One of the premier benefits for me was the opportunity to take on responsibility and develop and practice leadership skills. Members were encouraged to plan programs and become active participants in the Jewish community. Additionally, we were able to compete in intramural sports, perform community service and learn the meaning of tzedakah. These social interactions with other like-minded teens helped me build my own Jewish community. It is also where I met my wife, Janyse. Frieder: I also feel that being a part of AZA and BBYO can truly change a person. The experiences and opportunities that BBYO offers help a boy mature into a young adult and it is just plain fun. The support system and friends made through AZA are like none other.

What was it like to be a Jewish teen in the nation's capital? Washington, D.C., is a beautiful city with its monuments and landmarks. It is also the center of our country's political power base. Living here helped me appreciate the importance of the president's and Congress' support of the state of Israel. Frieder: For Weisz, being a Jewish teen in Washington, D.C., 38 years ago allowed him to understand the importance of the state of Israel. As a part of the largest council in the BBYO order and living in an active Jewish community, I am lucky to be constantly surrounded by other Jewish teens and role models. Wherever I am, I feel a Jewish connection and do not feel alone.

Frieder: When I learned about Weisz's Brandeis experience, I was deeply touched to learn that I have similar sentiments when it comes to my own BBYO experience. One thing in particular remains true: BBYO, AZA and Brandeis AZA continue to be safe places for young Jewish men to come together to proudly connect with their Judaism and develop as leaders.

The biggest similarity, though, between Weisz's Brandeis AZA experience and my own is that we both learned to become leaders and to make a difference in others' lives. BBYO offers countless opportunities to be challenged, to be taught leadership skills that last a lifetime and to give back to the Jewish community as a whole. Both Weisz and I feel that we owe this realization to BBYO.

Josh Frieder, senior at Quince Orchard High School, is 17 years old.

BBYO is the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement aspiring to involve more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences. BBYO's network of Jewish teens, alumni, parents, volunteers and philanthropists serves as the Jewish community's most valuable platform for delivering to the post bar/bat mitzvah audience fun, meaningful and affordable experiences.

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