"I'm in a High School Fraternity"
Have you ever heard the expression "it changed my life?" Better yet, have you ever heard somebody say that and then two weeks later it was as if they had never experienced the entity they were talking about in the first place? Well for me, BBYO is not one of those things. I am proud to be able to say that BBYO truly has changed my life.
BBYO, or The B'nai Brith Youth Organization, is the world's largest pluralistic Jewish Youth Movement in the entire world. Its goal, as stated by its mission statement, is to provide more Jewish teens with more Jewish experiences. However, what makes the organization so appealing to its members isn't its ability to provide them with Jewish opportunities -- those are available at the local synagogue -- but instead its commitment to providing these opportunities in a way that makes the teen feel like they are making a difference, because the truth is that they really are.
When I am asked for what BBYO is to me, I always respond the same way. It is a Jewish high school fraternity. I then proceed to talk about why it has had such an impact on my life. I have become a more confident, charismatic, and just an outright better person because of the organization, and it has nothing to do with the curriculum. Any average organization can sit you down in a class and teach you the lessons you need to know in order to become a leader in your Jewish community. But BBYO does it differently; it hasn't made me a leader through a classroom or through seminars, it has done it through relationships. After attending international conventions with people from all over the world, I have realized that I am just one of many people with a desire to make a difference. I have to say that I have experienced one of the coolest feelings in the world, knowing that no matter where I am in the world, I will have a place to stay, a place to call home.
When I joined BBYO, I did so because the older members in my local chapter took a genuine interest in me. There I was, a shy eighth-grade boy yet to step foot into the realm of a high school, and seniors were talking to me as if I mattered, because in BBYO I did. They saw a potential in me that I didn't know I possessed myself and for that I will forever be grateful. What makes this organization special is the power it gives to the teens themselves, because it is a youth-led organization. The teens plan the programs, the teens recruit the members, and the teens are responsible for the future survival of the movement. The lessons I learned from BBYO are far more valuable to me then the traditional education I receive from a classroom in my high school.
In fact, yesterday while taking the ACT, I was asked to write an essay about whether schools should be lower their tolerance on cheating. It explained that students felt that cheating was the only way they could survive in this competitive academic environment. It asked me to take a point of view, either the educators or the students and explain why that side was right. So, being the argumentative person that I am, I decided that the best way to go about answering the question would be to take a middle ground and explain that if the problem in society was that students were cheating too much, maybe it was society and its education system that should be changed, not the students. In my opinion, students feel a necessity to get good grades in order to get into a good college so that they can get a good job and so on. But isn't the purpose of getting an education to obtain as much knowledge as possible so that you can do your part to improve the world? I guess that's a story for another time. But as I backed up my answer, describing the academic environment I envision, a place in which students controlled what they learned and how they learned it. I described a place in which intelligence was based off of someone's ability to perform and make a difference in the real world instead of their ability to correctly guess the letter pattern on a piece of paper. But as I went, I realized that I was describing something that was already there, something that already existed. I was describing BBYO.