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Largest IC in BBYO 90-Year History Brings Together Nearly 2,000 Jewish Teens from 20 Countries

February 18, 2014

DALLAS – In a period when Millennials’ affiliation with organized religion is said to be declining, BBYO’s largest International Convention (IC) to date, themed “Welcome Home – Every Jewish Teen, Anywhere,” brought together nearly 2,000 teens plus hundreds of stakeholders from 20 countries for a historic weekend of global Jewish engagement. The energy and excitement that literally shook the convention hall served as a strong counterpoint to those who claim Jewish youth engagement is on the decline. The teen-led, staff-supported movement celebrated its 90th anniversary in Dallas from February 13-17, while building a foundation for the future of the Jewish community.

“The nearly 2,000 teens who came to IC from all over the world don’t care about a Pew study,” said BBYO CEO Matthew Grossman. “They don’t know that they’re supposed to drop out of Jewish life after their bar or bat mitzvah. The next generation of Jewish leaders is connected in a way that is unprecedented in our history, and together, we are rising to the opportunity.”

The pure excitement of Thursday night’s Opening Ceremonies was heightened by welcome video addresses from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The presence of Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and a delegation from NFTY, Reform Judaism’s youth movement, added to the growing effort to create cooperation rather than competition among the various movements. Highlights of the night also included remarks from Lynn Schusterman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Ted Perlman (son of founding member of of the B’nai B’rith Girls, BBYO’s division for young women, Anita Perlman) and surprise appearance by singer songwriter Aloe Blacc whose song “Wake Me Up” has become the unofficial anthem of IC.

In his video, Prime Minister Netanyahu lauded the 90-year history of BBYO, saying, “I join you all in celebrating BBYO’s 90th anniversary…BBYO encourages young Jews of all backgrounds to be proud of their heritage… you're helping to create a human bridge to connect the young generation of American Jews with the young generation of Israeli Jews… and I want to encourage you, for the next 90 years, to continue doing exactly that.”

Sheryl Sandberg, in her video message, spoke of her own upbringing in BBYO and encouraged the teens to set goals with the belief that they can do anything and not be afraid of ambition.

Over the course of five days, participants had the opportunity to learn from each other, and engage some of the best and brightest thinkers in the Jewish community and beyond.

On Friday, February 14, the nearly 2,000 teens participated in BBYO Stand UP Day, a large-scale service and advocacy project in collaboration with the Dallas Division of the American Heart Association. The teens learned Hands-Only CPR and, shortly after, trained hundreds of local middle school students in the technique. The day started with a plenary featuring inspirational change makers from the community like Change.org CEO Ben Rattray, global advocate in the fight against sexual violence and former Miss World Linor Abargil, Simon’s Fund founder Darren Sudman and Olympic Gold medalist Dana Vollmer. The teens then traveled to Frisco Memorial Stadium for their training by the American Heart Association and filmed a PSA with members of MTV’s "The Buried Life," Ben Nemtin, Duncan Penn and Jonnie Penn. The goal of the PSA is to encourage others to learn CPR so they are prepared in the event of life-threatening emergencies including cardiac arrests. Eighty percent of such emergencies happen outside a hospital, often at home, work or school.

“Part of what we focus on in BBYO as Jewish leaders is tikkun olam, repairing the world,” said Gary Levine, a student at Yavneh Academy in Dallas and one of two of BBYO’s International Vice Presidents of Jewish Heritage. “This project allowed us to learn these life-saving CPR skills, and then pass that knowledge onto others. Taking a few minutes to learn CPR can save a life – we are the next generation of leaders and lifesavers and we need to be prepared to help if ever the time comes.”

Following a Sabbath filled with 24 different teen-led service opportunities for prayer spanning the Jewish spectrum, Saturday was dubbed Limmud IC, a day of learning featuring over 100 session options facilitated by influential thought, business and clergy leaders including former Starbucks President Howard Behar, Fox Sports producer Bob Steinfeld, representatives from StandWithUs, Survivor winner and founder of Grassroots Soccer Ethan Zohn, BBYO alum and current Nike employee Michelle Caplan, former NFL Giants Linebacker Keith Davis and Phired Up Productions founder Matt Mattson. The full program guide is available here.

Saturday night, the nearly 2,000 teens heard from their current leaders Grand Aleph Godol Mika Stein and International N'siah Michaela Brown followed on Sunday by the election of the next International Board: Sam Perlen of Nashville, Tenn.; Skylar Morley of Ridgefield, Conn.; Alex Merrit of Los Altos, Calif.; Jacob Nitzkin of Farmington Hills, Mich.; Jonah Moore of London, U.K.; Amanda Freedman of Toronto, Ont.; Rachel Cohen of Elkins Park, Penn.; Gabby Mesnier of Chesterfield Mich.; Roni Rose of Charlotte, N.C.; and Brittany Bruck of Duluth, Ga.

The International Board helps chart the organization’s vision for the coming year, and provides leadership and support to teen leaders in local communities throughout the BBYO system. They work to strengthen regions and chapters by enhancing the Judaic, social, educational and community service programming throughout the network.

On Sunday night, the convention body closed out an incredible week of fun and learning with the 90th Anniversary Founders’ Festival and Texas State Fair featuring performances by indie rock band American Authors, hip hop recording artist B.o.B and progressive house DJ and producer 3LAU – an alum of AZA (BBYO’s division for young men).

Select photos form BBYO’s 2014 IC are available here. Handout photos are provided courtesy of BBYO and should be credited to the photographer indicated on the individual photo.

About BBYO BBYO is the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement aspiring to involve more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences. For 90 years, BBYO‘s leadership programs the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA, high school fraternity) and the B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG, high school sorority) have been providing exceptional 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. Now, BBYO’s network of Jewish teens, alumni, parents, volunteers and philanthropists serves as the Jewish community’s most valuable platform for delivering to the post Bar/Bat Mitzvah audience fun, meaningful and affordable experiences. With year-round activities in hundreds of local communities and inspiring world-wide travel experiences, BBYO’s broad program menu enables teens to explore areas of leadership, service, civic engagement, Israel education and Jewish values.

For more information on BBYO, please visit www.bbyo.org.

Please note that BBYO should not be referred to as the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, but rather by its acronym “BBYO.”

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