Convention draws Jewish youth from far and wide to Dallas, but biggest delegation is right at home
This story was published in the Dallas Morning News
By Eline de Bruijn February 18, 2017
Hundreds of Jewish teens from around the world converged on a downtown Dallas hotel this weekend to draw strength in their common faith and unity in their differences.
About 2,500 taking part in the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization International Convention stampeded through the halls of the downtown hotel, many of them dressed to match their home states and countries.
There were Wisconsinites dressed head to toe in cow-pattern outfits and Germans with ensembles of red, gold and black.
"Welcome to Dallas," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a videotaped greeting to the teen assembly to which he once belonged.
But the biggest delegation already felt right at home: 205 of the teen are from the Dallas chapter of the organization, which emphasizes Jewish identity and tradition, leadership skills and community involvement.
The group offered up three young adults with local ties as examples of that mission at work.
Golman, who attends Greenhill School in Addison, believes the key to civil discourse at a time when social media emboldens hateful comments is meeting face to face.
"You're always going to have people who feel super strongly one way and super strongly the other," said the 17-year-old, who was elected as the youth group's vice president of Jewish heritage a year ago. "Nothing gets accomplished in a yelling match.”
That's why encouraging dialogue is so important to Golman and why he leads and plans community service efforts and helped plan three charity dances that raised $10,000 total.
In Golman's estimation, the toughest conversations are the most important.
"Until people are completely comfortable with having those necessary conversations, then we're not really going to go anywhere," he said.
Epstein, 21, was a junior on a mission last semester at the University of Texas campus last semester.
Jewish alliances were already established with most minority groups through the Texas Hillel student foundation — with one notable exception.
“I said, ‘What about the black community?’” said Epstein, a graduate of Yavneh Academy of Dallas. “So I stopped by a Black Student Alliance meeting. It was a really cool cultural experience.”
With the initial contacts established, the challenge is making sure the burgeoning relationship between the two groups lasts beyond his graduation, he said.
So far, there have been meetings about how the two groups’ histories interlinked. Both sides of the alliance have political views from across the spectrum, Epstein said, and want to learn from each other through the experiences college offers.
Now they’re starting to focus on social events. Later this month, there will be a black student leader shabbat, a festive dinner and observation of the Jewish day of rest.
Most important, Epstein said, the shabbat is an opportunity to “branch out beyond your comfort zone into different communities.”
“Let’s get together and see what we can do,” he said.
Elissa Bauer, 29, was instrumental in starting Dallas' Moishe House, a partially subsidized housing program for Jewish people age 21 to 32.
Originally from Houston, she went to UT and later the University of North Texas to study counseling.
At the Moishe House, she lived with two other women who molded their ideal Jewish hub for young adults with religious practices and events.
They were given funds to plan five to six events per month for the Dallas Jewish community, which she said was “very warm and welcoming.”
“It’s been unique to have organizations and have them offer resources to grow and find yourself in your religion,” Bauer said. “It makes you stay connected and grow your own identity as a young adult in the Jewish communities.”