By April Basler – abasler@atljewishtimes.com

Why has Atlanta become the place to go for Jewish youth movements? BBYO, NFTY and USY all had similar reasons. Atlanta has a dynamic and diverse Jewish community.

This year is the third time BBYO has held its International Convention in Atlanta, which is part of a regular rotation. IC will be back in Atlanta in 2019.

“Atlanta is a top-tier BBYO program. It’s a huge and very active and vibrant BBYO community. It has generations of alumni and multigenerational BBYO families. As a convention setting, it’s geographically convenient and has a huge number of our most active members,” said Ian Kandel, the IC director and director of AZA/BBG and the teen movement. “The brands that are local allow us to really amplify the content that we have in the program. We think that Atlanta is an important city to be in as a community-building place, as an educational platform and as a fast-growing Jewish community.”

BBYO has a multifaceted selection process for choosing the cities for IC.

“It’s a result of a big team operation. We work closely with our field’s colleagues to explore who can host in a powerful and meaningful way,” Kandel said. “We want to make sure we have great partners on the ground to help build the experience.”

Although this is the first time NFTY has held its convention in Atlanta, the youth movement knows it will be back. NFTY, like the other youth movements, rotates host cities for its convention so that a teen does not go to the same city twice during high school.

“Atlanta is an ideal place. We do plan on coming back in the future,” said Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, the Union for Reform Judaism’s director of youth engagement. “We wouldn’t come back for our next convention, but down the road, absolutely.”

The leaders at the national office of NFTY make sure that the convention happens in different locations, and Atlanta is the city that made sense to them for 2015.

“Atlanta is a great city that has been very excited about hosting,” Rabbi Solmsen said. “Atlanta has an amazing Jewish community, and we wanted to highlight all that’s going on with the Atlanta Jewish community, so it’s been a great match.”

NFTY looks at a number of factors in choosing a host city for the convention.

“We have a team of people who evaluate things,” Rabbi Solmsen said. “It’s a pretty complicated decision that brings into account finances, numbers, enough hotels, etc. There are senior leaders who make these decisions.”
USY had a wonderful experience when it held its convention in Atlanta seven weeks ago and plans to keep the city in the regular convention rotation.

“Once this cycle is done, I am certain we are going back to Atlanta, maybe in 2019,” said Lisa Alter Krule, USY’s director of regional engagement and director of the International Convention. “I would go back in a heartbeat.”

USY, like the other youth movements, has a selection process for choosing the convention locations.

“When we go into a city, we look at it with many lenses,” Alter Krule said. “What can we do educationally? How can the community support us? What can we do to help leave the community to make it better than what it was when we got there? Who are our partners? What are the logistics? All of those questions are on that checklist in site selection.”

Before the International Convention in December, USY had brought the event to Atlanta only one time, during the 1970s. But Atlanta was Alter Krule’s top choice for USY IC 2014.

“There is so much richness in Atlanta as both a Jewish community and as a city in the U.S. It’s a major city,” she said. “I fought very hard. I had some convincing arguments in order to get other powers on board for Atlanta. I wanted to take chances and look at new opportunities. Atlanta just came up. People were surprised when we did that.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is a supporter and sponsor of the youth groups and helps them not only financially, but also by providing volunteers, hosting events for the teens and including convention events on Federation calendars.

“The Federation supports all three youth groups, BBYO, NFTY and USY. Michael Horowitz, our CEO and president, is the driving force behind that,” Federation spokeswoman Melissa Miller said. “His priority is Jewish continuity. That’s the best way to continue to build Jewish community, is through our teens and the future leaders.”

Miller said the youth movements’ decision to host their conventions in Atlanta says a lot about the city and community.

“We have a vibrant Jewish community with a lot of involved teens that are involved in all of those organizations, and Atlanta is a welcoming community,” Miller said. “The conventions were planned in Atlanta because we have all the resources. All of the agencies and schools support all the youth groups, and we have so many teens that participate in the youth groups, some even in more than one.”