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BBYO Reunion Brings Old Friends Together

BBYO Reunion Brings Old Friends Together
Alumni recall leadership development, activism during raucous 1970s
By Elise Kigner Advocate Staff

The 1970s B’nai B’rith Youth Organization members have cut their hair, moved out of their homes in places like Mattapan and Chelsea, and raised children of their own, but even after more than 30 years some things were exactly the same. Groups of old friends recalled their antics at house parties, and looked over admiringly as former chapter leaders arrived.

On Saturday about 50 people met at Camp Hale in Westwood for the first reunion of Massachusetts BBYO alumni from the 1970s. For more than 85 years, the organization has been bringing together Jewish youth for Jewish learning, community service and networking.

“It is like we’re picking up a conversation that we had yesterday,” said Nancy Sorkin, who was a member of the Everett BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls).

Joey Baron, chatting with a few of his old friends from the George Gershwin AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) in Mattapan, recalled organizing services protesting the Vietnam War at Temple Beth Hillel in Dorchester. The teens said Jewish prayers of peace, played Bob Dylan protest songs and screened footage of riots in Chicago. Baron, who now lives in Needham and is co-founder of the Boston Jewish Music Festival, said BBYO’s nondenominational approach influenced the way he thinks of Judaism now.

“You took your Jewish identity, and you made what you wanted of it,” he said.

BBYO also taught him practical skills. Baron said his children are 16 and 18 years old, and they have a hard time even planning trips to the movies. At BBYO, he said he learned to plan by organizing everything from parties to visits from out-of-town chapters.

Alan Goldberg, who went on to work at the JCC Association, said in BBYO he learned life lessons from his peers. He recalled an older member picking him up to drive him to a meeting and telling him, “When you’re old enough to drive, you have to do the same thing.”

Marjorie Levin, who helped organize the reunion, was the regional president for the girls chapters. At the reunion she whipped out her old papers with lists of different chapters and officers that were decorated with heart doodles. Levin said BBYO helped her develop the leadership skills she uses today, whether she is organizing the community garden, or a golf league.

“It really helped me develop self confidence as a girl,” she said.

A big part of BBYO was simply socializing. Ed Eich, a member of the Chelsea Clovers AZA, recalled sporting a green jacket and hanging out at Revere Beach. His chapter held big house parties that had even bigger reputations. While the chapter meetings were based in neighborhoods, the regional conferences, house parties and dances allowed teens living in different communities to meet each other.

Danny Goldsmith, of Mattapan, and Joyce Jacobson, of Brookline, for example, met at a 1969 BBYO dance in the grand ballroom of the Hilton in Boston. They have been married for 35 years.

Two current BBYO members, Codie Magier, New England Region president, and Halley Ames, the vice president, came to the reunion to talk about what the organization is like today, and to pick up some tips from alumni for future programming.

Several of the alumni told Magier and Ames about a 1970 conference where the teen leaders suddenly told participants to stop what they were doing, made them line up and fed them gruel, without even doing the bracha. The leaders started making accusations, and threw their victims into a room used as a makeshift jail. The teens reacted with a mix of fear and confusion: Was this real? In time, the leaders explained they were trying to simulate the Holocaust.

Magier and Ames said they didn’t think something like that would go over so well with teens today, who would likely use their cell phones to call their parents to ask for help.

What hasn’t changed about BBYO since the ‘70s? The relationships, Ames said.

“The people here are [saying] ‘I met my best friend in BBYO’”

To reconnect with BBYO alumni, visit the Facebook group AZA/BBG Friends from the 70s in Massachusetts or visit FAN.BBYO.org

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Washington, DC 20001
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