Record number of St. Louis teens set for BBYO convention

St. Louis alone will be sending 55 members to BBYO international conference in 2018, more than double the number they sent last year. Photo courtesy of Kathy Goldstein.

By Ethan Fine, Sophomore, Eureka High School

For the past 93 years on the Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day weekend, Jewish teenagers have gathered for the B’nai Brith Youth Organization’s International Convention (IC). 

BBYO is made up of two groups, Aleph Zadik Aleph for boys  and B’nai Brith Girls. IC, known as the largest gathering of Jewish teens worldwide, is BBYO’s four-day convention for Jewish teens from 42 countries.

“The thing I love most about BBYO is the global outreach,” said Eyal Kattan, vice president of AZA for the St. Louis Council. “No matter where I am in the world, I know I have a friend nearby. My family continues to grow thanks to BBYO.”

This year, the convention is in Orlando, Fla. Previous host cities have been Dallas, Baltimore and Atlanta. 

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“It is such an amazing way to meet new friends, connect with old ones and experience once in a lifetime opportunities alongside thousands of other Jewish teens,” said Kaitlyn Goldstein, president of her BBG chapter at the Jewish Community Center West campus in Chesterfield.

Last year, more than 2,500 teens from 30 countries attended IC. For this year’s convention, more than 2,700 teens had signed up within hours of the opening of registration; 3,500 are now registered. St. Louis plans to send a record 44 teens to Orlando next month, contributing to record attendance at IC. 

“It’s great that St. Louis is sending a record number of people, because it’s honestly the best convention,” said Leah Levenson, vice president of BBG in St. Louis. “It’s a great experience to make new friends and take part in this huge meeting of all these Jewish teens.” 

IC hosts educators, politicians, performers, speakers and professionals from around the world. The lineup for 2018 IC have not been announced, but past speakers have included U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas; YouTube personality Casey Neistat; Philip Rosenberg, head of business development for Sony Playstation; and actor Joshua Malina. Past entertainers  have included Jason Derulo, Fifth Harmony and St. Louis-based rapper Nelly. 

Former President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have sent video remarks to IC attendees. 

“I’m going to IC because you can feel the magnitude of the impact of BBYO, [with] Jewish teens from across the globe uniting together,” Kattan said. “There is nothing more incredible than to experience a weekend like that.”

Attendees say that IC being held in Orlando has its perks. Convention participants will be visiting Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, which will be reserved for conventiongoers. 

“This year, a ton of St. Louis kids are going, which is super fun,” Levenson said. “There’s some supercool initiatives and programming introduced this year that will make it an amazing convention.” 

BBYO also hosts five “summits,” which are workshops for those interested in particular skills and positions. Summit attendees will arrive in Orlando a day early. The summits include Canadian National Summit, February Executives Conference, Jewish Enrichment Institute, Sports Leadership Summit and Membership Growth Summit. 

“I love all of the amazing friends, experiences and leadership skills I have learned in BBYO,” Goldstein said. “I now consider my best friends those that I met through BBYO.”

Teens going to the convention say they have a lot to look forward to. With record-setting attendance, a beautiful location and an unannounced but likely exciting lineup, the teens see this as a weekend to remember.

“I know every part of this weekend will be incredible, but experiencing it with my closest friends makes it even more special,” Kattan said.