What BBYO’s International Convention means for Dallas and the Jewish community
Read this story in the Texas Jewish Post
On Oct. 3, my daughter Allie and 200 of her peers took over a Dallas pizza restaurant. They set up laptops, chattered with excitement and counted down the seconds until 7 p.m., when they, along with over 1,700 other Jewish teens around the world, proceeded to “crash the dash” — BBYO’s internal server — in a matter of seconds.
Why? To register for the BBYO International Convention (IC), where the theme will be “Welcome Home.”
From Feb. 13-17, 2014, the now nearly 2,000 registered youth, accompanied by friends, BBYO alumni, advisors and professional staff, will make Dallas and the Hyatt Regency their home for this annual event. During BBYO’s 90-year history, IC has grown to become the world’s largest pluralistic gathering of Jewish teens striving to strengthen the Jewish future. The organization engages over 40,000 youth around the world. Dallas is home to more than 600 members in 12 chapters, and several international officers through the years have been from Dallas, including two current international board members: Grand Aleph Godol Mika Stein (president) and Grand Aleph Shaliach Gary Levine (vice president of Jewish heritage).
Over 30 years ago, I attended IC as president of the Texoma Region, representing all of Texas and Oklahoma. Back then, the convention was held at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Starlight, Pa., and attracted about 300 to 400 young people. Fast forward to last year’s IC in Washington, D.C., attended by over 1,500 teens, representing all parts of BBYO and the world (18 countries!), and nearly 500 friends of the organization. That gathering featured a welcome video address from President Obama, and prominent guests included Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Susan Rice, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
To an outsider, it would seem that things have really changed since my days in the camp bunks.
But as I watch Allie — who currently serves as president of the BBYO North Texas Oklahoma Region — prepare to host her peers from around the world, I see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As it is for my daughter, BBYO was for me, and so many others, a wonderful blend of leadership development, community service, connection to our faith and a great social scene. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, it’s still providing the same platform. That is not only gratifying, but also remarkably powerful.
I start to feel nostalgic, and then I’m filled with pride as I realize that for our family, this is really a three-generation milestone. My father was active in AZA while attending high school in Houston. He would be proud that Texas is hosting IC, and proud of Allie’s role in the organization. Like so many BBYO alumni, I attribute much of who I am today to what I learned, who I met and how I changed as a member and leader in BBYO. My wife and I have seen the same outstanding influences on Allie and so many of her friends.
I also can’t help but reflect on the significance IC has for the Jewish community in Texas and, indeed, throughout the world. A recent study by the Pew Research Center reported a rise in the number of American Jews who are not religious and don’t raise their children to be Jewish. But when I see the record-breaking demand and excitement about IC, I feel confident that BBYO is part of the answer. It provides a service and outlet for our young people that can help ensure a vibrant Jewish future.
In February, as BBYO approaches its 90th anniversary, more teens than ever will learn together, lead together and set the agenda for that future. This time, IC will feature youth-planned programming, including a day of service and advocacy in the Dallas community and a day of learning on Shabbat, with more than 25 elective sessions and multiple services that will allow participants to customize their experiences. These teens are committed to making a difference, and they see themselves as the Jewish community’s leaders, now.
Allie and I invite the Dallas community to get involved and help host IC 2014 by volunteering, speaking, sponsoring our oneg Shabbat or stopping by to see the future of Jewish leadership. Join me online by following the pre-IC excitement at bbyo.org/azabbgic and on Twitter through @BBYOInsider and #AZABBGIC2014. I hope you’ll mark your calendar for an energizing weekend with some inspirational youth.
These are your next Jewish leaders, and this is an opportunity to see history in the making.
Rodney Schlosser lives in Dallas with his wife Cristie (an alumna of Wadel BBG), daughter Allie and son Lee. He co-chairs the local BBYO fundraising efforts as part of BBYO’s Friends and Alumni Network (FAN). Allie is following in her dad’s footsteps as regional president of BBYO North Texas Oklahoma Region, and she is active in Weinstein BBG.
To contact BBYO North Texas Oklahoma Region staff or to be a part of IC 2014, call 214-363-4654.