The first chapter of the Aleph Zadik Aleph was formed in 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska. With guidance from advisor Sam Beber, AZA was declared an international organization on May 3, 1924. As chapters began to form throughout the United States and in Canada, International Conventions were held and International Officers elected. In 1925, AZA was adopted by B’nai B’rith International as its official youth program.
By the 10th anniversary of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, over one hundred chapters existed in North America. The first overseas chapter of AZA was founded in 1936 in Bulgaria, and chapters followed shortly after in England and in what was then Palestine. The first professional field staff members were hired to work with AZA chapters around North America.
During World War II, the Aleph Zadik Aleph sold more than $6 million in war bonds and committed countless human resources to the war effort. Over 10,000 Alephs in good standing at the time and alumni fought for the Allies in World War II with approximately 290 sacrificing their lives. Because the war pulled so many AZA members away from their home communities, the minimum age for membership was lowered to fourteen. The B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG) was officially established in 1944 and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) was born as the umbrella over both groups. The B’nai B’rith Youth Commission was established as BBYO’s governing body.
Camp B’nai B’rith opened in Starlight, Pennsylvania, in 1954 and became home to AZA International Convention and other BBYO summer programs. Many of BBYO’s International Programs were established during this time period, including the International Leadership Training Conference, Kallah, and the Israel Summer Institute.
The 1960’s saw continued growth for the Aleph Zadik Aleph and the establishment of Noar L’Noar as BBYO’s first partner in Israel.
The Aleph Zadik Aleph celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1974. B’nai B’rith Beber Camp was opened in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, in 1977 and the first Chapter Leadership Training Conference was held there that summer. Camp B’nai B’rith in Pennsylvania was rededicated as Perlman Camp in honor of BBG’s organizer, Anita Perlman.
BBYO’s international presence increased with the establishment of chapters in France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Austria. At the same time, districts (which had previously encompassed several regions) were disbanded in North America. Teen Connection (now BBYO Connect) was also established during this time to involve middle school-aged Jewish youth. BBYO partnered with the March of the Living upon its establishment in 1988, sending the largest delegation on the first trip.
Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) expanded significantly, becoming the foundation of the organization’s training program. International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI) was established, and the AZAA Basketball Tournament was renewed after years of dormancy. The organization’s international headquarters moved locations for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Just after the turn of the new millennium, many changes occur. In 2002, the Order becomes a legally independent entity from B’nai B’rith International and BBYO is established as its official new name. Shortly afterwards, BBYO launches its international teen travel program, now called BBYO Passport. In 2005, International Convention leaves Perlman Camp for the first time in 50 years, and is held in a different location every year since. A few years later, the International Boards introduce BBYO Stand UP, BBYO’s service, philanthropy, and advocacy campaign.
Today and into Tomorrow
The 86th/66th (2010-2011) Executive Body ignited a renaissance of globalization – reconnecting BBYO worldwide and establishing new partnerships with twenty Jewish teen communities across the globe. The 2010-2011 programming year also yielded the introduction of “Speak UP for Israel”, BBYO’s campaign for Israel education and advocacy.
In 2014, Alephs and B’nai B’rith Girls celebrate the milestone anniversaries of 90 and 70 years of providing Jewish teens around the world with leadership opportunities, meaningful connections to Judaism and lasting friendships.
In 2015, the Executive Body passes legislation reaffirming BBYO as a home for every Jewish teen regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, socio-economic background, or any other character attribute. They also formally recognize Maccabi World Union (MWU) as BBYO’s sister movement and partner in Israel, and commit to welcoming new members into AZA and BBG at the beginning of their eighth-grade year.
The 2016–2017 programming year brings the launch of the Global Leadership Academy, a Movement-wide effort to strengthen leadership opportunities and enhance member recognition. In 2017, BBYO sets forth a massive five-year expansion plan across North America and around the globe, with more involvement opportunities for teens everywhere. In 2018, the Order hosts its largest International Convention to date, with over 5,000 Jewish teens, stakeholders, speakers, philanthropists and community leaders in attendance.
The first decade of the twenty-first century redefined our Order. Sam Beber’s dream to provide a meaningful experience to Jewish teens has spread across the world and shows no signs of slowing down.