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Local Teen Elected International BBG President

Read this story in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

By Barbara Bayer

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Newly elected BBG International President Ellie Bodker (right) planned the recent BBYO International Convention along with Cole Pergament. He is holding the AZA spirit gavel and Ellie is holding the BBG spirit cup while they were on stage during the convention’s Opening Ceremonies. Jason Dixson Photography

Ellie Bodker has been elected international n’siah, or president, of B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG). While others from the area have served in a variety of positions on BBYO’s international scene, it is believed Ellie is the first person — male or female — from the Kansas City Jewish community to serve as an international president for the teen organization.

Ellie is a 17-year-old senior who will graduate in May from Blue Valley North High School. The election was held at BBYO International Convention (IC) 2016, which she planned in her role as international vice president of programming (s’ganit) along with her AZA partner. More than 4,000 teen leaders, educators, professionals and philanthropists from 48 states and 27 countries — including Ellie’s parents Fred and Cindy Bodker, grandfather Harvey Bodker, grandmother Ray Ann Kremer from Atlanta, Congregation Beth Shalom Rabbi David Glickman and BBYO board member Susie Goldsmith — gathered in Baltimore from Feb. 11-15 to hear from distinguished change makers and break a Guinness World Record for the largest Shabbat dinner ever.

Annie Rifkin, program director of BBYO’s Kansas City Council, has worked closely with Ellie over the past few years and was both nervous and excited as Ellie gave her pre-election speech.

“As she answered questions I felt nothing but pride and joy listening to what an exceptional leader Ellie has grown into. It is her hard work and dedication to BBYO that has earned her the title of international n’siah. This is such an exciting moment for our whole community! We are all proud and filled with joy to see one of our own paving the way for future Jewish teens in Kansas City. We congratulate Ellie and know she will be nothing short of amazing,” Rifkin said this week.

The youngest of three girls, Ellie decided to join Saadia BBG at the end of eighth grade after seeing how much her middle sister Mallory enjoyed BBYO.

“I was just so amazed by the older members who took me in and recruited me and pushed me to take leadership opportunities,” said Ellie. “I wanted to be exactly like them, I was just so in awe of the older girls taking me under their wings.”

BBYO is the pluralistic Jewish teen movement that aspires to involve Jewish teens in meaningful Jewish experiences. For more than 90 years, BBYO‘s leadership programs the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA, high school fraternity) and BBG (high school sorority) have been providing leadership programs and identity enrichment experiences, shaping the confidence and character of more than 400,000 alumni who are among the most prominent figures in business, politics, academia, the arts and Jewish communal life.

With year-round activities in hundreds of local communities and worldwide travel experiences, BBYO’s broad program menu enables teens to explore areas of leadership, service, civic engagement, Israel education and Jewish values.

The older girls Ellie admired so much had attended CLTC (Chapter Leadership Training Conference), so she chose to follow in their footsteps. She enjoyed and continued taking part in BBYO summer experiences, such as ILTC (International Leadership Training Conference). While she was participating in these summer experiences, she was taking on leadership positions at home by planning local chapter activities, serving in many board positions and becoming council president.

“Once I had those international friends, it made me want to keep going to international conventions and take on those leadership opportunities,” she explained, adding that she wanted to “continue to make bigger change.”

Last year Ellie was elected international s’ganit (vice president). The international vice presidents of programming for BBG and AZA work from their hometowns as resources, advisors and sounding boards for their counterparts across the system. They specifically focus on enhancing program quality and improving the program-planning process. One of their biggest responsibilities is coordinating BBYO’s International Convention.

Ellie enjoyed that experience so much she decided to go for the top spot in the teen organization, defeating three other girls. Serving as president will require her to defer a year of college, but she felt it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I felt like I had such a purpose working with all these different Jewish communities and making a difference for the future and empowering all these different teens.”

She will continue to serve as vice president for the rest of this school year and take over as president June 1. As president she will travel all over the country, and spend six to eight weeks abroad visiting 15 to 20 countries in Europe. She will consult with teen leaders and staff and meet with community partners as well as oversee the work of the rest of the international executive board.

As president she will get to do one of the things she relishes the most, making new friends and connections.

“Whether I’m working with other people or just hanging out and meeting new people at an event, I really enjoy the network of people and the variety of people I meet. They could be from Croatia and only speak a little bit of English or they’re from a city with a Jewish community similar to ours in Kansas City. I think it’s incredible all the different connections you make learning about their differences, but also about how we all have that common bond of Judaism. You know we always have something in common and it’s amazing to interact and meet all these new people.”

Ellie doesn’t know yet where she’ll go to college and while she’s leaning toward computer science, no final decisions about her major have been made either. She has determined she wants to attend a school with a large Jewish population.

“I know that whether I join a sorority or become involved in Hillel, whatever I do I’ll still be surrounded by the same types of people that I’ve been spending time with in high school through BBYO.”

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