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Six Hundred Teens Gather for Largest-Ever BBYO International Convention

March 2, 2006

Never in BBYO’s 80-year history has its annual International Convention (IC) gathered together so many teens committed to making a difference in the Jewish community. On February 16, nearly 600 members of the world’s leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement traveled to Atlanta from virtually every corner of North America, as well as Israel and Europe, to chart a course for strengthening the Jewish future.

"As I look out into your faces, I know that I am looking at future business leaders, rabbis and members of Congress," said Lynn Schusterman, chair of BBYO’s board of directors, during IC’s Opening Ceremonies held at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. "I cannot help but feel inspired and energized about the work we are currently doing to revitalize BBYO and about the great promise of our shared Jewish future as you step up as its leaders."

The IC agenda is reflective of teen leaders who "mean business." Following are a few of the key projects that were initiated by 75 regional presidents during "Execs," two days of meetings prior to IC, and were subsequently acted upon by the convention body:

  • The teens launched a new system-wide social action campaign entitled “iCan Be Heard” – a mass petition urging the U.S. Government and the United Nations to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran;
  • Designated a charitable organization around which a widespread fundraising and educational campaign will be created;
  • Developed new approaches to involve significantly more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences.

BBYO's executive director, Matthew Grossman, addressed the teen presidents with a message focused on opening a new era in the history of Jewish teen involvement that takes advantage of technology and creates opportunities for young people to take ownership of the Jewish future. He concluded his presentation by distributing copies of the book, I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl – a compilation of essays in which prominent leaders talk about the meaning of Judaism in their lives.

"Being a part of BBYO's largest International Convention was inspirational," said Arielle Gumer, a BBYO member from Atlanta. "It made me realize that the Jewish future is in our hands, and that teenagers have the power to make a real difference in the world."

Additional IC highlights included:

  • Fifteen different educational sessions facilitated by BBYO professionals and partner agency representatives, such as AIPAC, spark, TravelJewish.com and Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, with topics ranging from discussing Jewish ethics to strengthening the U.S./Israel relationship.
  • Presentation of the second annual David Bittker Unsung Hero Award to Jordon Yoss, a dedicated BBYO advisor in Atlanta.
  • Special memorial ceremony paying tribute to the legacies of Simon Wiesenthal, Rosa Parks and Pope John Paul II.

IC also provided a platform for BBYO's teen presidents, Brandon Rattiner and Shauna Ruda, both of Denver, CO, to deliver powerful keynote addresses, as well as to oversee the democratic elections of ten International Board representatives, whose terms will begin in June. Jeremy Gelman of Denver, CO and Dina Finer of Tulsa, OK were elected to serve at the helm of BBYO through the 2006-07 programming year.

IC's jam-packed business agenda was complemented by activities that enabled the hundreds of participants from 38 different regions to establish new friendships, while connecting to their Judaism on a level that they found meaningful. IC kicked off with a special Opening Ceremonies concert featuring the Jewish rock band, The LeeVees, and closed with Jewish teen music craze, Rick Recht. In between, teens enjoyed an innovative musical Shabbat service in an outside amphitheater under the stars and a creative Jewish hip-hop performance.

This year's IC reflects an organization that is in the midst of tremendous and exciting change. BBYO's recent independence from B'nai B'rith, coupled with new leadership on its board of directors and a charge from founding philanthropist Lynn Schusterman to "be creative and have big dreams," has motivated the organization to develop innovative strategies to reach exponentially more teens by appealing to their core needs. As a result, BBYO is expanding upon its renowned leadership opportunities to offer teens unprecedented social networking capabilities through a new online community – b-linked.org; resources to help them navigate the college admissions process; and unique community service and travel opportunities. BBYO's new initiatives are being directed to the widest diversity of Jewish teens who have the potential to connect to meaningful Jewish experiences if they find an appealing point-of-entry, but are at risk of turning away from the Jewish community if they do not.

"[BBYO] cannot be the end of our experience as Jewish individuals," said Ruda. "It must be a path to the building of our Jewish identities. We must leave with an attachment and commitment to our Jewish community.

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