International BBYO convention to bring record number of attendees

Students from the Mid-American BBYO chapter pose with new and old friends at last year’s International Convention. The convention was held in Atlanta, GA and hosts many Jewish people from all around the United States.

Megan Rubenstein, Sophomore, Parkway North

Jewish teens have a long tradition of participating in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, known as BBYO: Boys have been involved since 1924, girls since 1944. BBYO welcomes Jewish teens in grades 9-12, though many opportunities exist for eighth-graders to participate as well.

Several St. Louis area participants say that one of the greatest benefits of BBYO is the chance to meet Jewish high school students from all over the world. That will happen again this year when the 92nd BBYO International Convention (IC) takes place over President’s Day weekend, Feb. 11-15, in Baltimore.

More than 2,400 teens are expected to attend this year’s IC, which offers opportunities to deepen leadership skills, hear from inspiring speakers, network with peers and connect more deeply with their Judaism.

“International Convention is the largest meeting of Jewish teens, essentially in the world, and allows all of its participants a unique opportunity to expand their horizons, learn new traditions, go to exciting events and make amazing lifelong friendships all at the same time,” said Parkway Central senior Max Baron, who is the BBYO St. Louis Council Godol (president of St. Louis boys).

Colin Silverman, BBYO Grand Aleph Godol (boys international president), says that  after visiting 19 North American communities and 12 countries abroad, he has come to realize how important IC is in the Jewish world.

“Being the largest gathering of Jewish teens, IC serves as a platform to show how strong the Jewish community is and how Jewish teens care and are proud to be Jewish,” said Silverman, a resident of the Chicago area.

This year, IC is expecting teens from more than 20 countries and more than double the number of attendees from its convention in 2012.

“During a time when youth are generally unengaged in organized religious life, BBYO is reversing that trend, and IC proves it,” said St. Louis Council BBYO adviser Erica Morris.  “On a different level, it’s a time where the teens decide the future of the organization and celebrate our successes.”

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

International Convention is so popular with members of BBYO because it is a chance for all members internationally to come together as one, just once a year. There are opportunities to be had at IC that cannot be had anywhere else, which is what makes it so appealing.

“IC has turned into the biggest event for Jewish teen life around the world,” Silverman said. “From the professionalism we show at our convention, to the A-list speakers we welcome year in and year out, this has made IC as big as it is today.”

While teens can be a part of their chapter or their city’s council at home, IC offers them the chance to be a part of something bigger. The teens are all there to further their passion for BBYO and to be a part of the international BBYO community, which is a completely different setting than when just with the members they live nearby.

“Having 2,500 teens from 22 countries coming into IC from near and far shows the size and the power of BBYO,” Silverman said. “It shows how teens all over the world share the same values. When we are all together, we show the entire world the difference we can make.”

BBYO has been around for decades, but membership internationally has grown in recent years. St. Louis-area membership also has been steadily increasing.

“The St. Louis Council is becoming one of the fastest growing councils in the order, with membership skyrocketing this year,” said Michelle Koverman, a senior at Parkway Central who is the BBYO St. Louis Council N’siah (president of St. Louis girls).

Morris said the St. Louis Council’s membership has grown 22 percent over last year

Members from all chapters often bring in family and friends to join their chapters. This adds to the already large number of members in each chapter.

“We know how to draw people in with fun and meaningful programs,” Koverman said. “However, people join people, not organizations. If we tell people to bring friends with them, to the next meeting, they’re a lot more comfortable with people they know, rather than being in a room full of high-schoolers.”

Many St. Louis area members have enjoyed BBYO over the years, but the recent growth in membership, especially this year, has affected the St. Louis Council in a positive way. The more members who join St. Louis area chapters, the more opportunities there are to be had by all SLC members.

“This membership boom has affected SLC BBYO in an incredibly positive way,” Baron said. “With more and more members, we are able to diversify our programming and include more and more angles of the Jewish faith. It’s extremely fun and interesting, maybe even compelling, to have a group of young Jewish teens who all think so differently and yet are so like one another at the same time.”

Although members are constantly being recruited, there is a reason they are staying involved. BBYO allows them to be a part of the greater Jewish community, to be a leader and to make a difference.

“BBYO is important to Jewish teens because it shows them that they are part of something bigger than their chapters, councils and regions,” Morris said. “It offers ways for Jewish teens to connect with their community in the way that works for them, and inspires lasting commitment to the Jewish people.”