“More Jewish teens, more meaningful Jewish experiences” is the mission statement of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO), an international youth leadership group for Jewish teens from grades eight through twelve. On Saturday nights, members participate in programs planned by other members that encompass new topics and lessons that double as both a fun and insightful experience. Recent programs include Disability Awareness Night and Ben and Jerry’s night. These programs covered ways to understand and respect those with disabilities, as well as how to take social action and raise awareness for current issues by learning about the ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s whose flavors are constructed to represent important causes. Occasional Friday night services are held to commemorate the holiday Shabbat. Large weekend long conventions are held three times a year.
Sophomore Chloe Shrager participates in El Al, a chapter of BBYO located in Palo Alto, and loves BBYO’s welcoming atmosphere of community as well its ability to inspire her. “I was first brought to BBYO as a prospective member in ninth grade,” she said. “From my first event, I felt not only welcomed, but also wanted and valued in a community where nearly every person I met had a different personal definition of Judaism, but still listened and learned from others instead of judging them.”
Shrager is grateful for not only all the things BBYO has taught her, but also the way it has impacted her. “I have learned a lot about myself in BBYO, including a lot of my personal Jewish values and my confidence as a younger leader,” she said. “I owe that strength and knowledge almost entirely to this organization and the people I’ve met.”
Senior Coby Simler has had several experiences that serve as milestones for his growth, appreciation and leadership for BBYO. “I took advantage of a constructive culture that quickly ushers teens into a rewarding spectrum of opportunities to step up,” Simler said.
Becoming a member of his local chapter, SiWi, has played a significant role in Simler’s leadership development, and this is thanks to all the support and encouragement of the organization. “More influential than teen-led initiatives is the support that is fostered in BBYO,” Simler said. “My local chapter accepted me as a trembling eighth grader running for a board position, now as a senior, I dedicate myself to organizing 200+ person conventions for teens from around Northern California so that they too can support each other in growing as leaders.”