By Michael Jacobs
The annual BBYO International Convention brought 2,200 Jewish teens to downtown Atlanta and combined with the biennial NFTY Convention to create a Shabbat celebration of more than 3,200 youths Feb. 14. Atlanta also had individual moments to shine amid the overall spectacle.
A reception Feb. 12 on the opening night of the BBYO IC gave about 100 Atlanta alumni a chance to nosh and network and hear from such national Jewish leaders as philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman and Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz. That welcoming event came after Atlantans housed 101 teens and 22 staffers from foreign nations for five days.
Hands On Atlanta founder Elise Eplan, who co-sponsored the Atlanta reception, returned to the spotlight Feb. 14 when she was named the B’nai B’rith Girls Alumna of the Year, and fellow Atlantan Michelle Krebs Levy also walked onto the main stage that night to receive the David Bitker Unsung Hero BBG Advisor of the Year Award.
Weber School junior Meredith Galanti pulled off an electoral surprise when she was elected the 2015-16 international BBG mazkirah (secretary) through a nomination from the convention floor Feb. 15, topping two candidates who were nominated in advance and had time to issue platforms and campaign videos.
It’s the fourth consecutive year with an Atlanta teen on the international BBYO board, Atlanta BBYO Director David Hoffman said, but “the fact that she won after being nominated off the floor says so much more about Meredith than it does about us.”
Throughout IC, you couldn’t miss the purple “Home-Field Advantage” T-shirts (and at least one with the slogan “Jewish by birth, Southern by the grace of God”) and the bunny ears sported by the Southern Region delegation, the largest at the convention, which included 205 Atlanta teens.
Atlanta teens made speeches at plenary sessions and appearances on various panels. Perhaps none earned higher praise than Max Kantor, who was part of a Summit on Jewish Teens panel on experiential learning.
Max told of attending High Holiday services at the Breman Home last fall and seeing a wheelchair-bound man shock everyone by standing up just long enough to touch the passing Torah with a prayer book. The lesson for Max: “Judaism has not given up. We would not be here if we had given up.”
Fellow panelist Rabbi Jonathan Sacks replied: “Max, if you want my job, study a few years. You spoke, to me, better than any rabbi I know, and I congratulate you.”
None of it could have happened without parents Julie Abes, Robyn Feinberg, Terri Katzenstein, Lainie Palefsky and Gayle Siegel, who spent a year preparing for IC and helped the Atlanta BBYO staff coordinate the efforts of 115 volunteers, Hoffman said.
“It was truly amazing to see people come together from all parts of the Atlanta Jewish community,” he said. “Friends and family members, some of whom had never before experienced a BBYO program of any kind, alumni, advisers both past and present, and leaders from many of our community’s most important institutions (Jewish and non-Jewish) all contributed to the success of this historic moment.”
He singled out the Marcus JCC, Federation and BBYO Inc. for their staffing, facilities and money.
Just wait for 2019: Atlanta will get to try to top itself when IC returns.