BBYO IC 2015 is Proving It

By Michael Kogon | Special for the AJT

Michael Kogan

You wouldn’t think that I, a father of an eleven and an eight year old, would have much in common with a couple of 17 year old girls. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought so either, but the second I mentioned to my kids’ babysitters that I was in BBYO during high school, that all changed.

Their faces lit up and that was followed by a barrage of excited questions about my days as an Aleph, which I was more than happy to answer because those were the most formative years of my life.

“Did you lead chapter or regional programs?” They asked, “Are you still friends with guys from your chapter?” “Did you celebrate Shabbat together?”

Yes, yes and yes – but it was even more than that. I not only led chapter and regional programs, but the leadership skills I learned in BBYO are what gave me the tools and confidence to start my own company at age 27. I not only made best friends, but I made Jewish friends in Atlanta, an area where – when I was a teenager – there weren’t many Jewish kids around. I also made some amazing friends in other places around the world like Belgium, and all of these people are some of my best friends to this day. I not only celebrated Shabbat with my new friends, but I found a place where it was comfortable to be Jewish and do ‘Jewish things’.

We’ve all heard the statistics that say today’s teens don’t want to be part of organized clubs and groups, but when I saw these teens nodding and smiling as I answered their questions, I knew that BBYO was, and is, shattering that concept. These Jewish teens want a place to go, a place to convene and be their Jewish selves together. BBYO is that place – one where they can be part of something bigger.

Today, the teens engaging in BBYO programming in 30 countries around the world feel a unique sense of connection. All over the news are stories about Jewish people under assault, and teens get unvarnished headlines through social media. It can be scary, but if there were ever a time that the Jewish people need to feel connected around the world, it is now – and this is what BBYO is doing for our kids: helping them to feel comfortable being Jewish.

In February, over Presidents’ Day Weekend, this connection will become tangible at BBYO International Convention (IC) 2015 – a five-day convention that will be right here in Atlanta focusing on leadership, service and Jewish learning. In just 36 hours, over 2,300 Jewish teens, like my kids’ babysitters, signed up for IC 2015 – again, shattering the concept of teens shying away from organized Jewish life. I thought back to when I attended IC in 1988, when there were maybe 600 teens, and was blown away. This tells me that BBYO is doing something right: they’re making Jewish life, leadership and community-building fun.

Having IC 2015 in Atlanta is an extraordinary opportunity for our Jewish community. It’s the time for us to engage the thousands of our community’s future leaders while they’re in our backyard. While these teens will go off to college in a few years, we can put Atlanta on the map as a place to call home afterward. These are our prime candidates for leading the Jewish community in 10-15 years from now, and they’ll be here in February. Get to know them now. They’re the ones to watch.

I invite the Atlanta community to get involved and help host IC 2015 by volunteering, speaking, sponsoring, partnering or just stopping by. Join me online in following the pre-IC excitement at bbyo.org/azabbgic and on Twitter through @BBYOInsider and #AZABBGIC2015.

This is your chance to see, and be a part of, our future in the making.

Editor’s note: Michael Kogon is Atlanta born-and-raised. Previously the CEO of Definition 6 (1997-2013), a digital marketing agency with offices around the world, he is currently the Senior Vice President of IT & Digital at Pull-A-Part. He is also an Executive Board Member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (2005-present), on the Board of Hillel of Georgia and has been involved with AIPAC, a member of JFNA national cabinet (2001-2007). He is an alum of BBYO Southern Region: Atlanta Council, where he served as Council President and held many other leadership positions. His children, Eve and Leah May, are looking forward to following in his BBYO footsteps in just a few years.