Throughout history, alumni of BBYO across the globe have blazed trails and become leaders in politics, public service, education, entrepreneurship, and the Jewish community. As we approach our upcoming Centennial celebration in 2024, we’re highlighting members of our alumni community whose accomplishments exemplify the values and leadership skills that thousands of members have cultivated through BBYO in the past century. Below is an interview with AZA alum Paul Finebaum, a broadcaster and talk show host on ESPN.


ESPN Talk Show Host

Lester Sherman Okeon AZA #1204, Delta Region (formerly CSR)

Paul Finebaum
Paul as an Aleph in the 1970s, and Paul today

"I really value my time in BBYO in my life more than any other because of what it opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today. It opened my eyes, it helped me form opinions, and it gave me the confidence to do what I’m doing today."


What was your involvement in BBYO as a teen, and how has that experience shaped you as an adult?

I got involved early on because my mother was an advisor for Bluff City BBYO and my sister, who was 5 years ahead of me, was in a chapter called Fanny Brenner BBG #181. I became involved in the local council, the Memphis BBYO Council. I became the Vice President and then six months later, I became the President which I thought was the greatest job in the world. After that, I became Regional President.

I’ll never forget a month after being elected, I was 16 and got to meet a United States Senator. We started a chapter in Montgomery, Alabama, which was a really fun experience. I also attended International Convention in 1970 and got to meet people from all around the world. Again, at age 16, you start to grow up from these eye-opening experiences.

Then when my dad passed away in March of 1971, the BBG chapter was renamed to honor him which was really special.


What are some of the top learnings you took away from your time in BBYO that you still use today?

The #1 thing I learned was how to communicate, which I something I now do every day. You know it’s great when you get up in a classroom and have to read a story or something in front of your class, but here I was speaking to a large group of my peers and adults. I remember at a Regional Convention, I had to deliver a State of the Region speech which was a really big deal. That was pivotal to what I later ended up doing in life.

I would also say the relationships that I formed and learning how to listen to people is something I took away from BBYO. Suddenly as a teen I’m sitting in a room in Dallas or Starlight with incredibly smart and talented people, so I really learned how to just be quiet and to listen. You think you know everything growing up, but when you take on a leadership position, you have to learn these skills.


What were some of the highlights of your time in BBYO? What were some of your most formative BBYO experiences?

I remember during the Regional Convention in Alabama, I still think about this today, I interviewed a Russian Jew, which was broadcasted to the whole convention assembly. I’ll never forget the bravery it took of that individual to tell their story and I remember the audience was so riveted by his words.

My best friend today is a lawyer in Knoxville who was with me at that District Convention in 1972 and International Convention and was an advisor for a local chapter for many years. With my traveling today, I run into people who knew you back then. I just ran into someone in the airport who was in BBYO in Memphis!

The thing that really gave me the most pride was my own mother because she had been heavily invested in it. I knew it meant a lot to her to see me have success in the organization. She stayed an advisor for probably 20 or 30 years which is quite a sacrifice.


What advice would you give your teenage self? What might you tell teens today?

I would encourage teens to not waste the opportunity to share and learn with people, it’s a gift. It goes so quickly that I think you tend to take it for granted. I would encourage everyone to be more curious about people and try to learn one another’s stories.

There will be few moments in your life that lead you forward as importantly and as compellingly as BBYO. Take advantage of it. Get to know people. You just don’t know how it’s going to shape the rest of your life.

I really value my time in BBYO in my life more than any other because of what it opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today. It opened my eyes, it helped me form opinions, and it gave me the confidence to do what I’m doing today.