From BBYO IC: Building the Vision for a Jewish Future


This weekend in Dallas, Texas, BBYO hosted its largest BBYO AZA/BBG International Convention (IC) in 90 years of history, bringing together nearly 2,000 Jewish teens from 20 countries and hundreds more alumni, volunteers, advisors, professional staff, supporters and guests. Visit the site for a full rundown of the jam-packed weekend! Throughout the weekend, the BBYO IC Teen Press Corps shared highlights from the many speakers and performances and ran the BBYO IC live blog to capture and reflect on the IC experience. One of their posts is included here.

As "millennials," it's not uncommon to hear people saying that our generation will have a lot of responsibility as we grow to take the reigns of our communities--a monstrous national debt, climate change and a rapidly fragmenting and yet infinitely connected world around us. But alongside all those issues, if not entrenched in their resolution, lie a group of young people tasked with a mission of their own: Jewish teens, preserving the fortitude of the Jewish community for the next generation. There's no question that the Jewish world may be in a dangerous place--synagogue membership in decline, American Jews feeling disenchanted from mainstays of traditional Jewish community, and Israel facing widespread criticism. Not to mention the fragmentation of communities--Reform, Conservative, Orthodox--in a manner that sometimes resembles the schism our people faced prior to the destruction of our second temple.

And yet, despite all this, we're still here--not just surviving, but celebrating spectacular successes. This weekend, BBYO managed to bring together nearly 2,000 teens from 20 countries. Out of diaspora, we've found a home. In distress, we've built comfort. But it doesn't just stop with us. There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens in North America--by the most optimistic of estimates, a third of them are touched by a formative Jewish experience (like camp or a youth moment) between the ages of 13 an 18, which could mean that by the time our generation takes the helm of the Jewish community, we're a third the size of what we once were.

But, thankfully, we have partners in this endeavor. This weekend, AZA and BBG welcomed NFTY (the Reform Jewish youth movement) teens to their largest International Convention ever for a "Mifgash," to discuss their partnership and larger mission of preserving the Jewish people for generations to come. Mica Laber, a B'nai B'rith Girl from San Jose, CA, wrote the following about the experience:

The NFTY plus BBYO mifgash program at IC this year was not at all what I expected, and in the best of ways. It was really cool to meet Jewish teens who live close to me back home but that have had different Jewish experiences than I have. On the first day, we did some icebreakers, including "Jewish Bingo" where the BBYO teens had cards with NFTY acronyms and vice versa. Seeing the similarities between the two organizations first hand was eye-opening and made me realize just how important building and maintaining positive connections between all parts of the Jewish community is. We met with the teens from our geographic area and brainstormed ways of connecting back home; the regions in California discussed overlapping programming for connections in the future. We compared and contrasted our two mission statements, along with discussing the Coalition of Jewish Teens' priority values. Overall, I'm thrilled to have been a part of the experience and hope it continues and grows in the future!

Our teens are excited, moved by the idea of having a greater mission than just the perpetuation of the place they call their heart and home. In our Opening Ceremonies on Thursday we welcomed Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. He spoke with conviction about the importance of empowering young people to take the reigns of the world they will inherit from his generation. He challenged BBYO and NFTY members alike to build a Kehillah Kedosha--a holy community--for the Jewish world to live in and use to make the world a better place. "We are part of the Jewish people, past, present and future. The Jewish future depends on you feeling connected to and responsible for each other, not just for those in your youth organization. What you are discovering about Judaism this weekend could easily become the most important anchors in your lives." The core of why, as teens, we choose to remain a part of the Jewish world is the same reason why we've remained a tightly-woven tapestry for hundreds of generations before us. Our networks. Our friendships. Our community." We are and will continue to be the most connected generation of our storied people--and though we have many faces in many places, we remain one people, forever united in the pursuit of justice for us and generations to follow.

The Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.