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Chicago Hosts BBYO’s Largest International Convention Ever

March 3, 2008

More than 700 of the world's leading Jewish communal thinkers – all 18 years of age or younger – gathered in the Chicago-area from Feb. 14-18 for BBYO's largest International Convention (IC) in its 80+-year history.

"IC is unique, as Jewish teens from all backgrounds gather together in one place. Here, our youth-led organization determines the strategies for strengthening BBYO and our connection to the Jewish community at large," said Howard Wohl, Chairman of the BBYO Board of Directors. "Conferences such as IC encourage teens to enrich their connection to Judaism, develop a network of lifelong relationships and sharpen important leadership skills. Together, these experiences produce engaged Jewish leaders who will contribute to the vibrancy of our Jewish Community."

In addition to setting the agenda for the coming year and electing the 2008-09 BBYO International Boards, a key highlight of IC was BBYO's Day of Service, in which 20 advocacy organizations—such as the Council on Jewish Elderly, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless—were brought in to facilitate sessions on a wide-range of community service opportunities. The Day of Service was kicked off with an inspiring speech by Steve Culbertson, the President and CEO of Youth Service America, and concluded with a new community service initiative which encourages the 600+ BBYO chapters to complete 6 hours of organized community service projects by June, ultimately resulting in thousands of combined hours of service. Finally, each teen was asked to find a sponsor for the Day of Service, resulting in more than $8,500 being raised for the Lynn Schusterman International Service Campaign and BBYO's partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

"The Day of Service really brought to my attention a lot of issues that I never knew existed or knew I could do anything about," said Austin Bloom, a BBYO member from Charlotte, NC. "For example, in the session led by the Chicago Children's Advocacy Organization, I learned that there are so many child abuse cases that the public never learns about. Everyone can and should do more to help."

Additional highlights of IC 2008, which drew teens from North America, Bulgaria, Israel and the United Kingdom, include:

  • An exclusive performance by Israeli music sensation, Hadag Nachash. The concert, which was open to the entire Chicago Jewish community, was co-sponsored by JVibe Magazine and the Foundation for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago.
  • A Day of Learning on Shabbat, with 19 topics for teens to choose from ranging from "Judaism through the Arts" to "Is Kabbalah Water Really Worth $15.95/Bottle?"
  • A special themed lunch focused on BBYO's new advocacy initiative, My2CentsforChange.org, which aims to give teens ages 13-17 a chance to have their voices heard in the upcoming presidential election. My2CentsforChange.org is co-sponsored by several leading advocacy sites, including Youthnoise, DoSomething.org, Project Vote Smart, 18in08, Generation Engage, Declare Yourself and Mobilize.org.
  • The launch of an international campaign around the topic of "Israel's Image in the World," in collaboration with Tzameret, the leading teen movement in Israel, which BBYO works with to establish annual Joint Social Justice Projects.
  • The presentation of the AZA Alumnus of the Year Award to Michael Krasny, the Founder and former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CDW, the nation's largest direct marketer of multi brand computer solutions for businesses; and the presentation of the BBG Alumna of the Year Award to Joyce Keller, the Executive Director of JARC, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization serving adults with developmental disabilities in Oakland County, Michigan. Additionally, two volunteer advisors from Wisconsin Region, Jason Steigman and Mitch Moser, with a combined 31 years of dedication to BBYO, both received the David L. Bittker Unsung Hero Award, which is given out annually to outstanding advisors in memory and recognition of David Bittker, a long time lay leader of BBYO known for putting his personal interests aside to take on roles most needed by the organization.
  • A new, pre-IC "Chapter Execs Conference," which focused on how young chapter leaders can help BBYO make significant impacts on their local communities.

Finally, the 10 teens who will serve at the helm of the world's leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement as members of the International Boards were elected and include:

  • President (Grand Aleph Godol): Evan Herron of Cherry Hill, NJ
  • VP of Programming (Grand Aleph S'gan): Joel Feinberg of Atlanta, GA
  • VP of Membership (Grand Aleph Moreh): Jake Duboff of Cherry Hill, NJ
  • Secretary and Treasurer (Grand Aleph Mazkir), Sam Dragul of Denver, CO
  • Jewish and Israel Education, Community Service and Social Action VP (Grand Aleph Shaliach): Mike Rosenberg of Silver Spring, MD
  • President (International N'siah): Lauren Shenfeld of Los Angeles, CA
  • VP of Programming (International S'ganit): Gabbi Baker of Columbia, SC
  • VP of Membership (International Aym Ha-Chaverot): Caroline Canning of Miami, FL
  • Secretary and Treasurer (International Mazkirah): Morgan Finkelstein of Sarasota, FL
  • Jewish and Israel Education, Community Service and Social Action VP (International Sh'licha): Taylor Kent of Charlotte, NC

"This year's IC was evidence that teens are capable of extraordinary things," said Renee Sharon, BBYO's teen president (International N'siah). "It illustrated that there are teens around the world who are ready and willing to take on the responsibilities of being leaders in the Jewish community."

Did you attend IC? Send a few sentences about your experience at IC '08 to abudman@bbyo.org and we'll post it on bbyo.org along with this article!

What teens are saying:

"IC 2008 was a truly remarkable experience. Not only was I able to make a difference in the world through our Day of Service but I was also able to explore my Judaism through the creative Shabbat Electives. IC was a remarkable experience, where I was able to make friends with teens just like me from across the world! IC is something that I have been looking forward to for months, and I am pleased to say that it exceeded all of my expectations!" - Devorah Shiffman, Ohio Northern Region

"IC 2008 was truly one of the defining moments of my time in BBYO. It made me wish to aspire for more and greater things within my chapter, region and the order so that we can have more Alephs attend IC in the future and get as much inspiration from it as I have." -- Matt Kanter, Evergreen Region

"I attended IC this year and it was amazing. I have never attended an international event before and so I thought that I might feel left out since most people went to summer programs. I was totally wrong. I met so many people and made so many new friends. It was a great experience and I can't wait until next year." --Noah Lurie, Connecticut Valley Region

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