Sam Fabricant, Mazkir of Rocky Mountain Region, recently interviewed AZA alum Corey Stern for a podcast hosted by BBYO’s Mountain Region. Corey is a former Grand Aleph Godol, a partner at Levy Konigsberg LLP, and a nationally-recognized advocate for the environment and children’s rights. Corey is currently representing over 2,500 children who were lead poisoned in Flint, Michigan, from the consumption of water from the Flint River.
Sam: Hi, Corey, how are you doing?
Corey: I'm doing great. Thank you. How are you?
Sam: I am amazing. I am super excited to have you on the podcast this week.
Corey: Thank you. I appreciate you having me. And I apologize that there was no one more interesting to talk to. So thanks for talking to me.
Sam: Of course. Well, you are incredibly interesting and I think one of the most interesting things about your story is how you joined BBYO. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that story?
Corey: I was actually an eighth grader – I was very involved in baseball and basketball and I didn't have a ton of Jewish friends. And my mom wanted me to diversify my activities. And she was very close with the rabbi's wife at the synagogue that we attended and where she taught Hebrew school. And there was not a BBYO chapter, or AZA or BBG chapter, out where I lived and the rabbi's wife convinced me to just have her come out and talk to some of the kids that I went to school with who were Jewish. And she convinced us that we should start a chapter.
We didn't think much of it other than it was a once a week kind of thing to get together. And when we told her that we needed, we wanted to have a chapter, she came back out a second time and said, well, you need to have a president and a vice president. And everyone was like, well, Corey's one who started this meeting. He's going to be the president. And I was like, no – I don't want be the president – but I became the president of our BBYO chapter, Mount Sinai BBYO.
I became Godol of our region, Nassau Suffolk Region. As a rising 11th grader, I ran for Grand Aleph S'gan. I think my parents and everybody thought I was nuts, but you know, I thought I'd be pretty good. And somehow I won and I was like this 15-year-old or 14-year-old kid that just won this international position, had no idea what it meant, no idea what I was supposed to do. And I loved it. I got to go to Washington D.C. a bunch of times a year. And I had a lot of people older than me that kind of still treated me like a little puppy and looked out for me. And the following summer I ran for Grand Aleph Mazkir, because at the time that position was the coordinator for Kallah and ILTC, which were two foundational pieces for why I fell in love with AZA and BBYO. And I won that.
After coordinating those two summer programs in the summer of 1995, I ran for Grand Aleph Godol, and I got lucky enough to win that. And so, you know, I, I look back on that time and it’s kind of crazy to me that I was so involved in something like AZA and that I had such confidence, I guess, as such a young kid to want to even try to run for those positions. So, what would have been my freshman year of college, I traveled around the United States and Canada and Europe, and served in the position as GAG.
Sam: That's so cool. That is amazing.
Corey: There was this whole BBYO AZA world that, you know, to this day, at least one of my best friends in the world became my best friend. He was the Grand Aleph Moreh when I was Grand Aleph S'gan. And he's just, probably besides my wife, my absolute best friend in the world. And so to have a foundational thing like BBYO and people who weren't judgmental and who always sort of saw the best in each other – I remember meeting kids at Kallah and ILTC, who I feel like if they had gone to high school with me, they may have been bullied or been treated like the things that made them unique were bad things. Whereas as at BBYO or AZA or summer programs or wherever, it seemed to me like the people who had the most unique characteristics were those that were sort of hailed and honored as the coolest people there. And, you know, it gives me hope for my kids and really for people everywhere. Like if we look at people that way, you know, I think the world would be a bit of a better place.
Sam: That's so awesome. That is so cool.
Corey: It’s a crazy fun and exciting experience, you know, but it's also – I would tell anybody that would listen, like kids who are 18 years old – it’s probably not the healthiest experience for them to have their name chanted all the time. We get the positions we get in life sometimes by happenstance. You know, if I were to go back in time and look at that experience, it may be that there just was nobody else that really wanted it, or was as good. You know, it may not have been because I was anything as special as those kids who were chanting my name thought I was. It very well may have just been because I was in the right place at the right time and sometimes that's life. And so, you know, I encourage anybody that's interested in that to pursue it a thousand percent. There's very little bad that I remember from it. And just a ton of good, just a ton of amazing experiences that I would wish for anybody that's a good person to get to experience, AZA was a fantastic thing for me to learn a lot about myself and the way I think about community and kindness and compassion.
Sam: So Corey, you were Grand Aleph Godol 25 years ago. You mentioned you have kids now – how has BBYO and AZA impacted your life after?
Corey: I think more than anything, if I had to say one way that it's really impacted my life is that it's allowed me to feel like there is nothing that I'm not capable of. It doesn't mean that I think I can do anything I want, but BBYO and AZA gave me this foundational space within myself where nothing seemed unattainable. You know, I even remember playing basketball. I'm five foot eight, and you know, I'm relatively quick as a high school kid playing basketball, but I'm little. And I remember like during the time I was in BBYO, like I truly believed I could dunk. Like there's no way I can't dunk a basketball. I'll never be able to dunk a basketball. You give me a trampoline, I probably can't dunk a basketball, but I just remember feeling so empowered during that period of my life. And I think a huge reason for that was the BBYO AZA experience.
Sam: I agree. I felt the same impact on me so far, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me. If you could give one piece of advice to any Aleph or BBG – what would that piece of advice be?
Corey: Be 100% authentic. You know, there's never been a space that I've entered like the AZA BBG BBYO space where authenticity is celebrated – especially at that age, I've never found a space where authenticity was so celebrated and not mocked or ridiculed. We just are who we are, and I try and teach my kids. Like you're going to make your best friends when you're authentic with them, because if they love you and you're authentic, then they're always going to love you because your authenticity is the fabric of who you are. AZA for certain taught me at a very early age that my authenticity was really my entire credibility. So just be authentic. AZA and BBYO is a space and place where everyone should be able to feel super, super comfortable. Not everybody has something like AZA or BBG or BBYO. And you should not take that for granted.
Sam: Well, Corey, I could not agree with you more. I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to sit down with me and talk about all of your experiences through BBYO and AZA.
Corey: My pleasure, brother. Good luck to you.