By April Basler / firstname.lastname@example.org
BBYO, the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement, is expecting more than 2,200 teens from Feb. 12 to 16 at its International Convention, a 24 percent increase from last year’s convention.
The teens will come from 500 communities, 40 states and 20 countries to meet in downtown Atlanta. The week leading up to convention, Atlanta-area families hosted 125 international teens and adult youth leaders from around the world for additional programming.
“Before the convention, the international teens are all being home-housed across the Atlanta community,” said Ian Kandel, the IC director and director of AZA/BBG and the teen movement. “It’s been stellar.”
BBYO, which is celebrating its 90th year, also is hosting numerous pre-IC summits, including a Jewish enrichment institute, a song-leading workshop and a global partner summit at which teens will discuss issues facing the world Jewish community.
BBYO kicks off IC with opening ceremonies the night of Feb. 12. Teens and adult leaders make remarks, and a live surprise musical performance concludes the evening.
“Opening ceremonies is one of the biggest moments of the whole convention. Every region dresses the same, and there’s a lot of spirit,” said David Hoffman, the BBYO director at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. “There’s a lot of excitement because it’s the first time all 2,200 teens are together.”
Throughout the weekend, a wide variety of programming will center on leadership, service and Jewish learning. One program, BBYO Leadership Labs, lets teens choose among 20 tracks to learn about topics such as globalization, philanthropy and political engagement. BBYO provides 25 pluralistic, teen-led services so teens can celebrate Shabbat as they choose. BBYO Limmud offers nearly 200 sessions led by program educators, guest speakers and leaders in the business world.
IC programming also includes an address from the international presidents of BBYO’s two constituent groups, Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) for boys and B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG) for girls, about the state of the movement, followed by an awards gala. Convention delegates elect the BBYO international board for the 2015-16 programming year. No one from Atlanta Council is running, but Melanie Ourhaan of Savannah is one of four candidates for the No. 2 BBG post, s’ganit.
Teens also sightsee at such attractions as the World of Coca-Cola, Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Georgia Aquarium. The weekend concludes with a concert by multiple guest musical artists.
The planning and execution of the convention involve not only the national office of BBYO, but also the local BBYO team at the Marcus JCC, local teens on the steering committee and a committee of parents of teens active in the movement.
Michael Cohen, 18, is vice president of programming for the Atlanta Council of BBYO and is on the IC steering committee. His assignments include the opening ceremonies, where he will speak to all the participants.
“I’m writing a script about the impact that we’ve had through the community,” Cohen said.
Cohen is a Limmud leader at IC and will assist one of the teachers during the day of learning. He also helped plan one of the discussion programs during the oneg after Friday night services.
“One of the discussion programs I helped plan is on expanding the people you know in the Jewish community. It’s basically like speed dating, but everyone meets everyone,” Cohen said. “The other program is based on Jewish musicians and how they have influenced pop culture.”
Emma Peters, 17, is vice president of her BBYO chapter in East Cobb and is on the steering committee for IC. Hosting the IC in her hometown means a lot to her.
“To me, it’s really amazing that we get to open our arms to thousands of people from dozens of countries and show them that the Jewish community in Atlanta is very excited and very focused to celebrate the fact that we’re all young and we’re all Jewish,” Peters said. “We want to show everyone that we’re interested in helping the world and the Jewish people as a whole.”
Enjoy the Show
Aside from those who registered for the convention for $895, locals have become involved with IC by volunteering in many ways. Parents have been given guest passes to attend specific programs. If you haven’t registered but want to follow what is going on with guests such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, you can watch the live stream (bbyo.org/azabbgic/live). BBYO and a group of 14 youth correspondents also will producing blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates, all of which can be found at bbyo.org/azabbgic and on social media with the hashtag #AZABBGIC2015.