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It Started in Omaha

Read this story in Jewish Press

"In Omaha, Nebraska it all began, 14 Jewish boys with a master plan. They asked Sam Beber to lend a hand."

My name is Sam Perlen, I am from Nashville, Tennessee and a proud member of Athens of the South AZA #258., If is an honor to stand here today in the great city of Omaha reflecting on the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph as the 90th Grand Aleph Godol.

At the first National Convention in the summer of 1924, right here in Omaha, 94 members gathered together to represent the four chapters at the time. It is AZA legend' that says that that first meeting was the first test of our Order's long distance brotherhood. Proving powerful and compelling, that moment ultimately became the driving force toward AZAs expansive success around the world and across generations for decades to come. Leaping ahead 90 awe-inspiring years, International Convention, as one indicator of our modern day movement's success, is now more than 30 times the size of that first convention, now one of the world's top three largest annual gatherings of Jewish teens.

Omaha's community ignited one of the most significant and wide-stretching Jewish communal networks that modern Jewish history has known. It's motivating and humbling to visit with you so early into my term at such a pivotal moment of our movement's history.

I, like you, grew up in a community with a small but mighty Jewish community. I see a lot of parallels between the Nashville and Omaha communities. We're hospitable and we're big on tradition. We're warm, welcoming and inclusive, and we value our past whilst being intentional about our community's future. We're focused on our local community's vibrancy, but we embrace that we're a part of something bigger. Our communities regularly lead nationally, act upon our responsibility to the Jewish People worldwide, and care passionately for the State of Israel.

These same communal attributes are why hundreds of thousands of teens over the last 90 years, across North America and around the world, as well as generations in Omaha and Nashville have found a home in AZA. AZA (and BBG) embody the very best of what the Jewish community is about. Through our teen-led model, Jewish teens everywhere feel welcomed, find meaning and feel wanted as empowered members of our fraternity.

Fraternity: A spirit of sociability, of cooperation and of friendship toward all Alephs that shall make of us one fellowship?—a love of and a loyalty to AZA and its ideals.

Brotherhood is what makes AZA so special to me, and thousands of my brother Alephs worldwide.

For me, not much is better than screaming at the top of my lungs, "Up You Men and Sing to AZA." The feeling I get when I am with my brother Alephs is unmatched, and I am so happy that so many Alephs, current and lifetime members alike, are here today. Once an Aleph always an Aleph. When I graduate and I join the 'real world', I know that the friendships that I have today will be my college roommates, the best men at my wedding, future coworkers, business partners and fellow adventurers. BBYO's power lies in the people. That's the personal impact. There is no organization in the world that can give in so many different ways to so many different people. And yet, all along, we feel like family.

Family's the most important thing in my life. My brother was in AZA. My parents were both in BBYO. My aunts and uncles are all lifetime members, and so each and every one of my cousins were Alephs and BBG's. BBYO is a family tradition in my house. AZA changes lives, builds boys into men, and creates an extended family for every Jewish teen that embraces all that it has to offer.

Today, AZA has nearly 10,000 Alephs amidst its ranks each year. BBYO reaches approximately 45,000 Jewish teens across North America and thousands more around the world in 30 countries. More than half a million alumni have graduated from our movement, and we're working hard today to strengthen Jewish teen life to ensure a bright future for the Jewish People. And it all started here, in Omaha.

In closing, I want to finish with a quote from the one and only Sam Beber, "Someday you will appreciate how much AZA will have contributed to the enrichment of your life. We give you your opportunity to so enrich yourself." Each and every day, I'm grateful for what AZA has done for me and the Jewish community. I want to thank you, the com- munity of Omaha, for igniting this movement, supporting and sustaining it for almost a century of Jewish history, and for being committed and inspiring partners in our Orders progress through today. We're as proud of the chapters and teens 'alive and well' in Omaha today as we are of our roots, and for as long as AZA impacts the lives of Jewish teens the world over, each and every one of us will always consider the Omaha Jewish community home.

Thank you for hosting me this weekend and for celebrating AZA's milestone this year. May we go from strength to strength as we share many more successes in the future. Thank you again.

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