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Jewish teens take on bullying as part of a groundbreaking BBYO program

Contributed By: Rachel Rothstein | The Mayerson Foundation

They were nearly 80 strong. They came from all across the region. They brought sleeping bags and stayed the night to speak out in solidarity and gain more awareness about an issue that all Americans should be concerned about. No, it wasn’t Occupy Wall Street, or even Occupy Cincinnati… it was Occupy the JCC, a program that was conceived of and led by members of the Jewish youth group, BBYO, who took over the Mayerson JCC Saturday night, January 21st to bring attention to bullying, a problem that affects many thousands of children and teens across the country and leads to numerous unnecessary suicides each year.

This overnight event included a wide variety of programs and began with an opportunity for the teens to join the entire Jewish community for a presentation by Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Afterward, the group participated in a series of interactive and informative discussions on topics ranging from celebrities who have spoken out against bullying to an engaging session about how to handle different bullying scenarios, and an open forum which allowed participants to share their personal experiences with bullying. Other activities included sports in the gym, snacks in the J Café, and Laser Tag!

“The mix of meaningful programs and fun activities with other Jewish teenagers is what made this event so exciting and appealing,” explained Matt Steinberg, BBYO City Director and Youth and Teen Director at the Mayerson JCC. “The idea was born out of Cincinnati BBYO chapter boards; Mishpocha AZA (boys) and Ner Tamid BBG (girls) who wanted to have a fun event that would start the year off right. But they also wanted to include a meaningful social action component, and felt bullying was an important topic that all teens could relate to. They knew that through a powerful program such as this; participants would feel empowered to make a difference themselves in the fight against bullying,” he continued. “But the best part was, like all BBYO programs, this event was led by teens for teens, which made it very accessible and relatable for them. I am so proud of everyone who planned and executed Occupy the JCC, and am glad to be part of a youth organization that gives its members the freedom and opportunity to take ownership of their own events. It is so rewarding to see them succeed in such a big way. This was our first event of 2012,” he added. “Just wait and see what we do next!”

“Infusing such powerful content into a fun-filled weekend is one of the many ways our region is making a name for itself,” said Josh Rothstein, KIO (Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio) BBYO Regional Director. “It’s exciting to see that our Cincinnati chapters are leading the way with this kind of innovative programming. The fact that teens from the other four cities in our region, Indianapolis, Dayton, Columbus, and Louisville, made the trip to Cincinnati just goes to show how moving (literally) something like this can be!”

The Occupy the JCC planning committee was made up of Cincinnati BBYO members from both the boys’ Mishpocha AZA chapter and the girls’ Ner Tamid BBG chapter, and included: Kelsey Bardach, Alex Burte, Kali Cohen, Mitchell Evans, Benji Kriner, Chase Kroeger, Marisa Levy, Herbert Meisner, Zach Samuelson, Joey Slovin, Alex Weisser, Hannah Wise and Sarah Wolf.

“Occupy the JCC was a great experience for all the old and new members. It was my first event and after going I knew that I wanted to come back,” said Cory Harbatkin, a freshman at Mason High School. “This was one of the biggest BBYO events Cincinnati has hosted in a long time, and it was such a success. It was great seeing friends from out of town, discussing how bullying affects high schoolers, and of course, spending the night at the JCC. It was a fantastic event from beginning to end,” shared Alyssa Bardach, a senior at Cincinnati Country Day School.

“We are glad to be partnering with the Mayerson JCC to help take BBYO in Cincinnati and the region to new heights,” said Pam Saeks, Director of Jewish Giving for The Mayerson Foundation. “Our interest and involvement in this organization, on both the local and regional levels, is due in large part to it being the only non-denominational, pluralistic youth organization in all of the KIO region’s five cities. That makes it uniquely positioned to attract both affiliated and unaffiliated teens, one of the most at-risk populations for falling off the Jewish path early on. ”

In addition to special events, parties, and Jewish social action- and holiday-related programs, BBYO provides numerous leadership opportunities and offers many chances throughout the year for teens to attend regional, and even national and international conventions, summer camp and trips to Israel. BBYO is open to those who are currently in 8th grade and now eligible to fully participate in all programs and events and attend chapter meetings and conventions.

BBYO is the world’s largest pluralistic Jewish youth movement. From offering fun, meaningful and affordable experiences to Jewish teenagers, BBYO has been providing leadership programs and identity-enriching experiences, shaping the lives of 250,000 alumni who are among the most prominent figures in business, politics, academia, the arts and Jewish communal life in the country and around the world. BBYO’s broad program menu enables teens to explore areas of leadership, service and civic engagement, Israel education, and Jewish values with the expectation that they will exhibit positive attitudes and behaviors about being Jewish while maintaining the values and relationships that strengthen the Jewish people.

According to a recent BBYO Impact Study, commissioned by the Schusterman Foundation, across several measures, BBYO alumni demonstrate a strong sense of Jewish pride and peoplehood, a willingness to play leadership roles and a connection to the State of Israel. They support Jewish organizations with their checkbooks and volunteer time. Alumni also participate actively in Jewish social networks and exhibit a desire and commitment to raising Jewish families.

To learn more about BBYO, please contact Cincinnati’s City Director, Matt Steinberg at the Mayerson JCC at or (513) 722-7244. BBYO in Cincinnati is a program of the Mayerson JCC with support from The Mayerson Foundation. The KIO BBYO regional office is managed by The Mayerson Foundation.

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