20 Louisville Teens Attend BBYO International Convention
by Mike Stekloff, Assistant Director of Youth Services
February 12-16, 20 Louisville teens and I attended BBYO International Convention in Atlanta, GA. BBYO International Convention (IC) is an annual event that began 90 years ago as a way for BBYO members to connect once a year, but has now grown to be a setting for individuals across the Jewish community to learn, lead and work together toward ensuring a strong Jewish future, spearheaded by the next generation.
This year, more than 2,200 Jewish teens (a 24 percent increase from 2014) and 1,100 Jewish adults – including some of the community’s top educators, professionals and philanthropists – from 20 countries joined in Atlanta for this unprecedented moment.
For the first time ever, The Jim Joseph Foundation, The Marcus Foundation, The Schusterman Family Foundation and The Paul E. Singer Foundation hosted the Summit on Jewish Teens during the first 24 hours of IC 2015. Two hundred and fifty of the Jewish community’s most influential thought leaders and philanthropists attended to converse with each other, and with teens, about how to engage this age group in Jewish life now and in the future.
IC 2015 was also host to the Coalition of Jewish Teens (CJT). Teen leadership from the five major youth movements (BBYO, NCSY, NFTY, USY and Young Judaea) met for 24 hours concurrently to the Summit on Jewish Teens to strategically plan ways Jewish teens everywhere can work across organizational borders to build a stronger, united Jewish community.
They drafted a mission statement for their work moving forward: “We, the Coalition of Jewish Teens, stand united to shape the Jewish future through shared Jewish values.”
“BBYO’s leadership, both teen and adult, realize that the future of the Jewish community is brighter when we all come together,” said Matthew Grossman, BBYO Chief Executive Officer. “IC 2015 was an exciting step in making that happen and we’re looking forward to continuing this collaboration.”
Shimon Peres, Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks were all a part of IC 2015.
Highlights of BBYO IC included:
• Surprise Welcome Video by Former President of Israel Shimon Peres: During IC opening ceremonies, attendees were surprised by a welcome video from Shimon Peres, in which he encouraged the IC body to “continue to learn, because we are a people that’s main name is tikkun olam, to improve the world … to bring peace to Israel, to love Israel, to support Israel and to come to Israel as well.”
• Opening Ceremonies also included remarks by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; Lynn Schusterman, founder and co-chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; and Karen Katz, CEO of Neiman Marcus and BBYO alumna.
• BBYO Leads Plenary: A morning of guest speakers inspired IC participants to continue building their leadership skills and make an impact on the world. Speakers included Barak Raz, former Israel Defense Forces spokesperson; Kat Graham, Jewish actress known for her role in The Vampire Diaries and activism work; Noa Tishby, Israeli actress and co-founder of Act For Israel; Michael Skolnik, political director for Def Jam Records and President of GlobalGrind.com; Trudy Album, Holocaust survivor; and Michael Steinhardt, Chair of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.
• BBYO Leadership Labs: BBYO offered 20 Leadership Labs across Atlanta for teens to learn about advocacy, globalization, Israel, leadership, marketing and communications, philanthropy, political engagement, relationship building, service, chapter and program development, event management and design, and more.
• They gained real-world insight from experts across industries at organizations and companies including the American Cancer Society, Center for Civil and Human Rights, CNN, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and The World of Coca-Cola.
• A Pluralistic Shabbat: Participants chose from 25 pluralistic teen-led Shabbat services, allowing them to celebrate Shabbat in the way that most resonated with them.
• BBYO Limmud: Nearly 200 Limmud learning sessions were led by program educators, guest speakers and leaders in the thought and business worlds.
Another thousand NFTY members joined BBYO for this day of learning, bringing more than 3,000 Jewish teens together to recognize the strength of the Jewish community. The highlight was the teen-led text study and keynote address by Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center.
Saturday night, the more than 2,200 teens heard from their current leaders, Grand Aleph Godol Sam Perlen (Nashville, TN) and International N’siah Amanda Freedman (Toronto, ON), followed on Sunday by the election of the next International Board: Colin Silverman of Chicago, IL.; Cole Pergament of Long Island, NY; Jake Davis of Columbus, OH; Matthew Rabinowitz of Charlotte, NC; Hunter Cohn of Columbus OH; Lauren Keats of Scarsdale, NY; Ellie Bodker of Overland Park, KS; Stephanie Hausman of Stamford, CT; Meredith Galanti of Atlanta, GA; and Deena Notowich of Memphis, TN.
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 BBYO: Stronger Together, a celebration of all that they accomplished and all to look forward to. The event featured performances by rap, reggae, pop and indie rock band Aer, hip hop and rap artist Flo Rida and electronic DJ and producer Kap Slap.
Louisville’s Jacob Finke served as one of the steering committee members for International Convention and led several programs including a program he wrote entitled “Making Disabilities Real.” Also, both Drew Corson AZA and Jay Levine BBG received International Chapter Excellence Awards.
Jay Levine BBG, by Abby Balkin
The past two months for Jay Levine BBG have been very eventful. It has been the beginning of our Spring 2015 term, which is also our recruitment term. We started the term off by installing our new board, and then had a really fun Super Bowl party with both our chapter and Drew Corson AZA. It was a great event with lots of desserts, pizza, friends, and fun.
Recently, we also had a tacky tourist Tuesday chapter meeting where we talked about our Stand Up cause and all of our goals for this term.
Spring term is also our recruitment term, which is why we decided to have a Shabbat Dinner and invite all of our MITS (Members In Training)! We had about 12 prospective new members show up and we introduced everyone, had a very nice service, and ended the night with a movie. It was a great way to introduce the MITS to our chapter, and it was a great way to spend Shabbat.
Jay Levine BBG is so excited about this new term, not only to connect with each other more and strengthen our bond, but to help the community and learn more about our Jewish identities.
Drew Corson AZA, by Joey Schuster
During the past month, we held a Super Bowl party and a chapter meeting. At the chapter meeting, we came up with ideas for our standup cause. We decided to select leukemia and lymphoma as the Stand Up cause that we will raise money for and learn about during the term. We are also currently planning events to welcome 8th graders into our chapter.
A lot of exciting things are happening for the J Forty-Fivers, the new youth group for fourth and fifth graders. The next event is a Shabbat Dinner with Bricks 4 Kidz on Friday, February 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the JCC.
Other upcoming events are:
Sunday, March 22 – Chocolate Seder
Sunday, April 26 – Bowling with the third and fourth graders
The next Teen Connection event will be a late night on Saturday, March 14, 6-11 p.m. at the JCC. Pinot’s Pallette and a video game truck will come in to do activities. There will also be a pizza dinner and a Havdallah service.