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BBYO International Convention: The Teen Perspective

Read this story in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger

BBYO International Convention: The Teen Perspective

Ninety-nine members of BBYO Connecticut Valley Region attended the organization’s International Convention in Baltimore last month. Two of them – Ryan Murace of Stamford and Yasmin Goodman of Longmeadow, Mass. — shared their experiences with the Ledger.

By Ryan Murace

Over Presidents Day weekend I traveled to Baltimore, Md. to meet some 2,400 other Jewish teens from around the world for an experience of a lifetime. It was my first International Convention (IC) and the first time in nearly six months I got to see the friends I made during CLTC 8 (part of BBYO’s two-week Chapter Leadership Training Conference) over the summer.

It was amazing! On Shabbat night of Shabbat I participated in my second ‘separates’ program (meaningful programs that BBYO girls and boys hold separately) at an International level. In it we explored the Seven Cardinal Principles of AZA (Aleph Zadik Alepth, the BBYO fraternity): Patriotism, Judaism, Filial Love, Charity, Conduct, Purity and Fraternity. We analyzed the meaning and importance behind each one. We discussed how involved alumni should be, where our charity should go, and what aspects of ourselves are the strongest.

At the end, we all came together and recited the Shema and then “Up You Men,” the AZA theme song. At first we sang it in a big circle, swaying side to side. Suddenly, a few people began forming another circle in the middle with the 91st Grand Board of the Aleph Zadik Aleph. My friends and I joined others chanting “Up You Men,” instead of singing it. We bolted for the center of the cheer circle as we sang to AZA. It was an unbelievable experience and an absolute honor to join with around 1,000 other brother Alephs.

There are many reasons why I am involved in BBYO, and this is one of them. Within the space of an hour, I joined with others in exploring our values, reciting Shema, and experiencing the burning passion of brotherhood we felt as we sang “Up You Men.”

These are only a few of the amazing things that BBYO does. It means so much to me that I’m able to experience all of this in different ways at least every other week. The friends, Judaism, and other aspects I get to enjoy from our chapter meetings to International Convention, makes BBYO one of the most cherished things I have.

By Yasmin Goodman

“WELCOME TO IC 2016!” These were the words that I saw plastered all over the hotel in Baltimore as soon as I entered.

This was just the beginning. On our first night of International Convention (IC), all of the teens gathered in one large room for opening ceremonies. As I looked around and saw the thousands of Jewish teens in this one place, I had felt euphoric. Never in my life had I seen so many people of my religion all together, connecting through and celebrating our commonality: Judaism. The statistic fact that we as a people represent about 0.2 percent of the world population felt impossible — because in that moment, we were unstoppable.

At the evening ceremony, members of each region and delegation from around the world dressed up and cheered their hearts out. Just when I thought this night was at its pinnacle, we were in for a major surprise: a performance by the famous musical group “Timeflies.”

As Friday morning arrived, so did a day full of inspiration. For me, this was a day of venturing into the real world: Baltimore. I was in a group that went to a free daycare called Kids Safe Zone. It was truly inspiring and surreal to learn about how one young woman thought of and created this place in Maryland all by herself. It is safe to say that, while we listened to her story, we were all amazed. Her effect on the community became even more apparent when the kids arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon, ready to go into the homework room of the Kids Safe Zone. As I boarded the bus for the ride home, after my day spent at the daycare, I possessed a newly discovered drive to help out my own community.

That night and the following morning, we celebrated Shabbat, honoring Israel by wearing blue and white, the national colors of the Jewish state. This was also a day of incredible speakers — ranging from the founder of the Israeli Air Force to Claire Wineland and Justin Baldoni, who spoke about a social enterprise called the “Clarity Project.” My heart was filled as I heard all of these remarkable people speak to us about their struggles and achievements.

The next day, some stayed at the hotel for international elections, while others went sightseeing. That evening we danced to a concert featuring Jason Derulo as the main act! A concert at a BBYO convention with my best friends…what could be better?!

IC was so amazing that I dreaded heading home the next day. The experience, the knowledge, the friendships, and the leadership skills that I took away from this convention are beyond explanation.

I am extremely grateful for all of the amazing opportunities, joy, and Jewish connections that BBYO provides me with every day. This organization is one of a kind, and I want every Jewish teen to have the same incredible experiences that I have had. If you can give one gift to someone, let it be BBYO — because this is truly a movement that changes lives and strengthens the Jewish people.

BBYO in Connecticut

Like the national organization, the BBYO Connecticut Valley Region (CVR) is on the grow. Especially over the last nine years.

“In 2008, we welcomed roughly 400 teens over the course of the year — including paid members and teens — who came for chapter meetings, dances or partner programs,” says the group’s director, Josh Cohen. “By the end of the 2015-2016 program year, BBYO Connecticut Valley Region will see more than 1200 Jewish teens between 8th and 12th grade — including close to 800 paid members.”

Over that same period of time, he reports, CVR added new chapters in several Connecticut towns, including Greenwich, Southbury, New London and Madison.

Cohen calls himself “fortunate” to have been working with Jewish teens for close to 15 years.

“Not a day goes by in which these teens fail to inspire and impress me,” says Cohen. “Sure, there are bumps along the way, teachable moments and learning experiences for everyone.” Nonetheless, says Cohen, “BBYO Connecticut Valley Region teens are driven, empowered and want to make a difference. They hold board positions, make difficult decisions, are accountable to their peers and plan and implement programs that are of interest to them.”

BBYO teens are the Jewish future, says Cohen. A fact he urges and older generation to recognize – and support.

“Jewish teens are not seat fillers and should not be treated that way in our communities. They should be given the opportunity to lead, try new things, be heard. At a time when reports say the Jewish population is shrinking, and we are losing 80 percent of our teens post-b’nai mitzvah, why haven’t we all gotten on board with the idea of supporting Jewish teen programs?”

What is it about BBYO that attracts so many Jewish teens?

“So many BBYO teens say they are here for the friendships, the meaningful programs and the overall experience which they can’t get unless they are a part of this organization,” notes Cohen, adding, “Have you ever seen 350 Jewish teens on a Saturday morning singing, praying, dancing and celebrating Shabbat as part of a community that they built? It’s an incredible sight to see and one that I wish every teen had the opportunity to be a part of.”

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