New BBYO chapters flourish among teens

Participants light candles during their induction ceremony into BBYO’s Sababa chapter to make new members official.

BY KATIE SILVER, FRESHMAN, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) is a nationwide organization for Jewish teens in grades 8 through 12, designed for them to connect through both social and community service activities. In St. Louis, there are six different chapters of the teen-led organization, two of which just became official in the last two years. These brother/sister chapters, Sababa (for girls) and Ya’ad (for boys), were started by teens looking for further involvement within BBYO, and they planned to make their chapters unique in their own ways. 

“I knew there were a lot of girls who said they would love to have a position and a role in leadership but they were either too scared to run or they didn’t think they’d beat their opponent,” said Parkway Central High School junior Allie Chervitz, co-founder of Sababa. “We [at Sababa] provide many opportunities for anyone who wants a leadership role. 

While Chervitz knew that she wanted new leadership opportunities for herself and others, she also knew that in order to create a chapter that would last for generations, the chapter would have to establish itself in a place that didn’t hold a prearranged reputation.

“There were two girls’ chapters before, and they both were very different, so if you didn’t fit in either of them, it was really difficult,” Chervitz explained. “The other chapters were [made of] kids who either went to Central or Camp Sabra, so there were lots of cliques.” 

Among the favorite activities held by Sababa are sleepovers, overnights and evening activities in order to secure the bond between the girls. The groups’ leaders even encourage the new BBYO members to bring a friend to events, so the chapter is able to better recruit their new members.   

In the Ya’ad chapter, teens take a different approach to jumpstart their own official chapter of BBYO by implementing original programs. Senior Josh Ettinger, co-founder of Ya’ad, said he wants to incorporate “all five tenets of BBYO — social, athletic, Judaics, community service and education — into one program and make it a lot of fun.”

There are many ways that Ya’ad has recruited members, but Ettinger believes that his chapter’s in-depth programming will encourage teens to further develop their interest in the chapter.

“One cool thing about our chapter is that… we really get things done,” Ettinger said. “We have fun and goof off, but…we can effectively program cool things like dinner meetings and things like that.”

Along with diversifying activities in their chapters, both Sababa and Ya’ad, along with the rest of BBYO, celebrate diversity within their chapters among the different branches of Judaism. The integrated ways of the BBYO chapters create a unique type of community, which causes connections that without these chapters may not have been made at all.

Carson McGill, BBYO regional director said, “[Within each chapter, there] could be an Orthodox teen sitting next to a Conservative teen, who is sitting next to a teen … who doesn’t belong to a synagogue at all.” 

McGill trusts that if teens unite to form a close community, they will be able to have thriving chapters. He believes that watching these new chapter leaders grow and develop is the most rewarding part of his job and the organization.

 “If we give [teen leaders] the power and support to [run programs] themselves, they’re going to love it, learn and be able to encourage other people to do the same thing.”