I slouched in my seat at the back of the sanctuary at Temple Israel waiting for the show to begin. The moment the first BBYO chapter began their performance, I jolted upright, transfixed. The teens on that stage looked like they were having the time of their lives, and I immediately knew I had to be a part of it. Since that fateful talent show, I have wholly immersed myself in BBYO.
BBYO is an international network of Jewish youth. And when I say that, I really do mean across the globe. BBYO has chapters in over 70 different countries, including recently established chapters in Japan, Morocco and South Africa.
Within the local Michigan chapter that I joined, I began as a general member. Together, we had dinners, played sports, went on retreats and performed services. I remember one program where, together we reflected on how we saw ourselves and how we wanted to be seen. I remember walking away from that space with a new perspective on the person I wanted to be. There wasn't a program titled "Group of Guys Grow to Become a Family," but that's what happened.
It was less than a year before my experiences in the chapter motivated me to run for vice president. The upperclassmen that mentored me were graduating and it was my turn to foster the community that helped me grow. I spent the next half year planning events and programs for my chapter until this pesky pandemic foiled our plans. I didn’t realize how important it was to be face to face with this family that I found until we couldn't.
The pandemic forced me to make a decision. As a leader in my chapter, would I succumb to the constraints of Covid? Or would I persevere through what would come my way to keep my chapter thriving? I decided to see what was behind Door #2.
The pandemic brought with it countless obstacles, but I learned to collaborate, adapt and innovate with my peers to make our precious time together the best it could be. I still look back and laugh about the nights spent on zoom with my best friends, stealing everyone’s imaginary money in online poker. Although we couldn’t be in person, our voices still filled up each other's homes with warmth and connections.
I currently serve as Michigan's regional president. In the four years that I moved up the ranks from a general aleph member to Regional Aleph Godol, I have gained skills I will carry with me for years to come. I built lifelong friendships and a huge network of people that I can count on. I've had numerous opportunities to give back to my community along the way. In my moment in BBYO, I discovered the values and beliefs that define who I am and what I stand for as a person.
For me, BBYO has been life changing and life affirming. This is my story, but the beauty of BBYO is that everyone has a story that is unique to them. I believe each of us takes something different out of BBYO, something that changes our lives for the better. Next time you see a member or alum, ask them their BBYO story and you'll get one (possibly twelve).
On November 30, we are holding our annual Giving Tuesday campaign. This year, every contribution we receive will be matched by generous donors. Donations will empower teens to build the friendships, connections and leadership skills that will strengthen our community for years to come. In a time when more teens than ever are turning to BBYO, please help to ensure we can reach Alephs and BBGs across our community with Jewish experiences that are fun, compelling and affordable for all families.
Here are some of the ways that your donation can make a difference:
$36: A festive Shabbat Dinner
$72: Professional development for the BBYO advisors who are mentoring and inspiring teens.
$180: A scholarship to attend a regional convention building Jewish knowledge, community, and spirit
$500: A scholarship to attend a BBYO leadership training camp.
BBYO Giving Tuesday