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BBYO Ohio Northern Region First in US to Dedicate Torah

Read this story in the Cleveland Jewish News

When teens dedicate a Torah during Ohio Northern Region BBYO’s 2013 Regional Kallah on Saturday, Jan. 26, they’ll become part of the first and only region in the country to have a dedicated Torah, according to Todd Kay, ONR BBYO regional director.

The Torah, donated by Janie and Michael Zoldan of Canton, will be the focal point for Kallah, a weekend about Jewish learning and Israel advocacy from Friday, Jan. 25 to Sunday, Jan. 27 at Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills.

“Our teens are so excited about having this as part of our program,” said Kay. “It just speaks to BBYO being a really strong Jewish teen organization.”

More than 110 teens and 25 adults, advisers, volunteers and BBYO alumni from chapters in Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Toledo and Cleveland are expected to participate in Kallah.

Kay and Lane Schlessel, regional director of BBYO Passport, which provides travel programs for Jewish high-school and middle-school teens, have held talks with the Mandel JCC in Beachwood about mounting the Torah in BBYO’s offices there and making a portable ark to bring to conventions.

“This is very big news for us and extremely exciting,” Kay said. “My teens are thrilled to have this opportunity and are so looking forward to this special event.”

This year’s Kallah coordinators are Brush High School students Ryan Kun, 17, and Alyse Weinstein, 15. Both live in South Euclid and are congregants of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike.

Ryan, a junior and the David Berger chapter godol (president), said the Torah dedication is an important part of the weekend.

“What I hope people walk away with is having a stronger emphasis on Judaism and strengthening their Jewish identity,” he said of Kallah.

This year’s Kallah isn’t just about the dedication. Teens will take Israeli dancing classes, explore Jewish improvisation and humor, bake mandel bread, play games related to the weekly Torah portions and take part in other activities.

As team coordinators, Ryan and Alyse helped plan the weekend’s educational sessions, including one where Aleph Zadik Aleph (BBYO’s boys) and B’nai B’rith Girls (BBYO’s girls) form separate groups for specialized learning experiences.

Ryan planned a discussion on how Israel fits into the United Nations.

“I want to emphasize Israel a good amount because Israel is a very important part of our history,” Ryan said. “People should know about it. They should be proud of the fact they can go to a nation that’s like a home away from home.”

Alyse, a sophomore and the Star of David chapter s’ganit (vice president of programming), planned her session around “Miriam’s Song,” which refers to the Torah’s prophetess Miriam, who is said to have sung a victory song after Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea.

“Miriam’s Song is a really big BBG tradition for our normal services,” she said. “It was a cool way to connect us to an aspect of our services. We want people to come away knowing their personal strengths and show them a way that they can use those to contribute to their greater community.”

Those split sessions mark the “one time in the weekend where it’s more special, deep programming,” Alyse said, adding. “It’s a lot more about someone’s personal relationship to this idea.”

Kallah is funded by a $3,000 grant from the Daniel and Ethel Hamburger Fund, which will provide Jewish musical and cultural experiences for this year’s teens, said Leora Hoenig, ONR BBYO’s program associate.

The grant will pay for song leaders Mikey Pauker, a Los Angeles-based recording artist and composer, and Happie Hoffman, a student at Indiana University in Bloomington and BBYO international sh’licha (Israeli emissary).

“Music and art is a universal language that speaks to today’s teens,” Hoenig said. “It provides teens with a creative way to express their own Judaism. It’s a way to educate them. It’s a motivator for people who want to be creative.”

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