2017-03-01 / Columns

Local teens join 5,000 peers at BBYO’s International Convention

BBYO BLOCK
By ANDREW QUIGLEY
& DARA MOLOTSKY
Regional presidents


Enjoying Israel Day at the BBYO International Convention in Dallas were (front, from left), Madison Vogel, Sophie Sklar, Zoe Arking, Jessica Segal, and Emma Weiss, with (rear, from left), Lindsay Cohen, Lizzie Cohen, Maddy Kagan, Samantha Frankel, Amanda Ravitz and Hallie Levine. Photo by Jason Dixon Photography. Enjoying Israel Day at the BBYO International Convention in Dallas were (front, from left), Madison Vogel, Sophie Sklar, Zoe Arking, Jessica Segal, and Emma Weiss, with (rear, from left), Lindsay Cohen, Lizzie Cohen, Maddy Kagan, Samantha Frankel, Amanda Ravitz and Hallie Levine. Photo by Jason Dixon Photography. Over President’s Day weekend, nearly 5,000 of the Jewish community’s top teen leaders, educators, professionals and philanthropists from across the world came together in Dallas for BBYO International Convention (IC) 2017, making it one of the largest Jewish communal leadership events in North America and the largest gathering of Jewish teen leaders worldwide.

IC kicked off Thursday night with Opening Ceremonies—the excitement could be felt throughout the main hall as teens dressed in spirit gear representing their home communities filled the room. As the 63 teens from the South Jersey Region (SJR) left their delegation meeting it was apparent that the next five days would be an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives.

IC 2017 opened with BBYO’s International Board welcoming everyone to Dallas. We then heard from inspirational speakers, including a short video from Mark Cuban, BBYO alumnus, about the importance of our Movement and Arnie Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary spoke to the teens about the need to remain as active Jews. They ended the first night with a high-energy dance party featuring guest DJ Seeb.

During the first full day of programming, LEADs Day, BBYO’s day of service, teens heard from an amazing array of gamechangers about leadership, and what it means to change the game as a leader and human being. Our very own Dara Molotsky, Regional N’siah, introduced Wendy Davis, who told her story of how her roots helped guide her to stand on the Texas State Senate Floor filibustering for a cause she believed in. The teens also heard from Deborah Lipstadt, the historian and professor of Jewish History whose story inspired the film “Denial.” She spoke about the need to be “upstanders” instead of bystanders, and speak truth to power when needed. To close out plenary, we heard from our youngest gamechanger, Alex Myteberi. He wrote a letter to President Obama about the Syrian refugee crisis—and then actually met the president at the White House. His main message was “Be nice,” and was a great way to go into our 41 Leadership Labs. The teens then dispersed across Dallas.

The teens continued to be inspired to be gamechangers on a variety of topics, ranging from politics, activism, CPR Training, LGBTQ+ Rights, Culinary Arts, and Hospitality and Membership coordinated by SJR’s Jed Freidman. “During my leadership lab we taught our participants about how to host, because when you create a comfortable environment that people enjoy they will want to come back and bring their friends with them,” said Jed.

One of the most amazing experiences there was celebrating Shabbat with over 2,500 Jewish teens. IC even broke the World Record for the most people celebrating Shabbat together! There was a variety of different services the teens could choose from, including a Beatles-themed service that was uplifting and fun. They then attended Oneg programs after the services, one of which was run by SJR’s own Anna Fleisher called Edgar Allan Poeneg. She also said, “Friday night of IC made me feel at home again with all of my friends both regionally and internationally. The beautiful sense of community brought me back to the feelings I had at Perlman and CLTC.”

Then, on Saturday morning, teens broke out into smaller Shabbat service sessions in which each teen could find a Jewish experience that spoke to them. After services, teens had the opportunity to choose from a variety of Limmud (learning) sessions. Topics at these sessions included comedic writing from one of SNL’s original writers, Alan Zweibel; an interview of MK Hilik Bar, deputy speaker of the Knesset; listening to impassioned stories from three Holocaust survivors; as well as Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan from Broadway’s Hamilton who spoke about his documentary on genocide. These sessions and programs taught so much and left them with knowledge they would never forget.

Everyone at IC was excited to enter Sunday with a day of sightseeing across Dallas and electing BBYO’s International Board for the 2017-18 School year. SJR is very proud of our own Andrew Quigley, Regional president, and Trudi Fleishman, Regional vice president, for having the courage to stand in front of their peers and caucus for International Board. Though unsuccessful, we applaud all of the time and effort they put in.

IC ended with a bang Sunday night with performances by artists Nelly, Fifth Harmony, and Audien, and a “Texas State Fair” featuring a Steer, armadillo races, and more. As the night ended, tears were aplenty as teens said goodbye to new and old friends or see you soon at summer programs. Monday morning, SJR’s teens traveled home a little tired with more friends, an amazing Jewish experience, and an appetite for more. 

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