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BBYO, NFTY teens unite, find common causes

Read this story in the Cleveland Jewish News

Two Jewish youth groups, BBYO and NFTY, held their annual international conventions Feb. 12-16. This year was different because for the first time these conventions were held in the same place, at the same time. Two international conventions, but together in Atlanta. Without a doubt, this meeting was a litmus test of sorts for the future of the Jewish people.

The idea was simple: could the NFTY teens and BBYO teens integrate, make connections, exchange leadership strategies and experiences, and strengthen the future of the Jewish people, not to mention both groups? Or would the boundaries, and the commonplace vitriol, created by the organizational differences remain strong, creating two separate paths for Jewish youth involvement?

The answer was resoundingly in favor of the former. Even in light of BBYO’s pluralistic mission and NFTY’s single denomination (Reform Judaism), BBYO and NFTY teens found common ground much in the same way that two Jews of any age do: Jewish geography.

Parallels between the two groups were discovered, and participants realized that the seemingly great differences could often just be boiled down to trivial things like a different name for the same event or leadership position. The historic meeting of these two groups for the first time was as well mixed as it could have been.

Nobody expected BBYO and NFTY to immediately dissolve their organizations and form a new, singular youth group, but short of such a drastic step, these teens (of all different backgrounds) found diversity in a new way. This should come as no surprise, given the expansive history of Jews being not only open to, but supportive of diversity.

The time in Atlanta, the home city of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, harkened back to the Jews that marched alongside African-Americans, brother supporting brother, in the civil rights marches that would bring America closer to equal rights. In those times, Jews ignored the superficial differences dividing them and African-Americans and found bonds that all humans share.

Some five decades later, Jews found it in themselves to similarly ignore the superficial differences between their organizations and found a connection that has the ability to be essential in completing the task of building a vibrant future for the Jewish people.

Brian Margolis is a senior at Orange High School, and regional vice president of programming for the Ohio Northern region of BBYO.

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