Spanning over 51 countries, BBYO, a Jewish youth organization, has over 33,000 members and 725 chapters around the world. BBYO New England Region (NER), including Rhode Island and Eastern Massachusetts, is the local involvement for this worldwide movement. This past month, BBYO NER met for its annual fall convention virtually via Zoom with 85 teens in attendance.
NER has found powerful avenues to connection and community in a virtual setting with engaging virtual programming that connected teens spanning over 30 towns and cities and fostered new bonds in times of disconnect and distance. Milly Asherov, chapter president of Judy Ann Levin BBG in the Providence area, expresses how impressed she was with how the weekend turned out: “It exceeded my standards and is evidence that this region can adapt to any circumstances. It was so cool to see so many people together, even if it is virtual, and made the risk of trying something new worth it!”
“In everything you do you encounter sparks full of life and light, aspiring to rise toward the heights. You help them and they help you,” said Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. BBYO surely generates “sparks full of life and light” for NER teens. Even though many have missed in-person events and seeing friends, by continuing to support our communities, we receive support in return. Virtual programming has not stopped BBYO from reaching and connecting more teens. Leyad Zavriyev, a member of the North Shore chapter, attended his first-ever convention: “The regional business meetings, separates and international Shabbat/Havdalah services were all very unique and gave me an opportunity to experience what BBYO strives to be: a vibrant and diverse community. This was especially cool for me to be a part of as a new member who is just starting to engage with the community here.”
Despite a challenging year, BBYO teens continue to share their passion for this organization and recreate meaningful experiences at home. During their virtual convention, teens split to have their well-loved brotherhood and sisterhood events. Teens found a positive and uplifting atmosphere to express their shared struggles of the pandemic and hang out just like pre-pandemic times. NER teens found a way to foster connection even through a screen.
The weekend was full of events fully planned by teens, with the guidance of their director, Samantha Walsh. In every group of towns in the Greater Boston area, there is a chapter with its own board of teen leaders bringing dozens of leadership opportunities for teens in the area. This event was put on by steerers, known as convention planners, and the regional board. Teens are able to gain valuable leadership skills and work with their peers in a fun and creative environment. BBYO is an amazing way of getting involved as a leader in the Jewish community and working toward a common goal.
BBYO also provides opportunities for Jewish engagement to the post-bar or bat mitzvah audience. Throughout the year, BBYO incorporates Shabbat or Havadalah and community service opportunities into events. Teens can get involved in many traditional and non-traditional experiences. Services were held internationally to engage teens from around the world in song. Israeli dancing and creative services allowed teens to develop their own Jewish identity. Jake Katz reflects on the dynamic services offered: “My favorite event was the Saturday drawing service! I really enjoyed being able to interact with my Judaism in a totally new way.” BBYO’s diverse ways of connecting to Judaism are one-of-a-kind and inclusive for all denominations and identities. In BBYO, Judaism helps create a safe environment where teens can create a common identity and their Jewish home in the absence of summer camp this past summer.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought, BBYO capitalized upon these new virtual environments to adapt and continue to build the community. BBYO New England Region remains strong, and getting involved is easier now than ever with NER’s virtual programming and opportunities. Find more information here.
We welcome Jewish teens of all backgrounds, denominational affiliation, gender, race, sexual orientations and socio-economic status, as well as those with a range of intellectual, emotional and physical abilities.
Written by members of BBYO NER: Sharon Vered, Shira Zimmerman, Sofia Abdullina, Seth Rosenman and Sabrina Glaser.
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