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B'nai B'rith Youth Organization
Teen Voice

B'nai B'rith Youth Organization
Get connected to Judaism.

-- Brandy Cohn

I was a “twice a year” Jew, going to synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Sure, I had spent years in Hebrew school preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, but when the party ended, so did any fascination with religion. I always had the plan, however, to join BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization), a Jewish youth group. So, when I reached high school, I joined it, full of excitement. My sister had told me all about the bonding sisterhood programs and the crazy conventions. She had never really mentioned anything about the religious part of the organization. I was by no means against Judaism, I just did not care. I liked dreidels, bagels, and Adam Sandler.

In BBYO, programs during Shabbat always include services. Not the typical services I find insufferable. Rather, BBYO services are themed and creative, and are led by other members. They make me more connected to the service because I feel like a participant, not an observer.

The BBYO-Jewish experience really sets in at the Havdallah service. Saturday evening, everyone slinks into a room and clumps into a circular blob on the floor surrounding guitar players in the center. The braided candle is lit, the spice box is passed around, and the prayers are sung. Then, we sing secular and traditional songs and relax and let Shabbat fade away. Our Havdallah services create a kehila kodosha, a holy community, as our voices spread a wave of Jewish heritage and love. Having had these genuinely joyful experiences, I began to realize that I could relate to Judaism more than I had expected.

Outside of Shabbat, BBYO is still a largely Jewish group; after all, being Jewish is the only requirement to join. What makes BBYO unique and special compared to other Jewish youth groups is that BBYO is pluralistic and not managed through specific synagogues. We have an array of teens practicing religion at different levels. A large amount of programming revolves around Judaism, relating to religion, spirituality, or Israel. For teens like me who sometimes feel like they are drowning in a sea of Jewish confusion, BBYO is not just a safety boat, but also a paddle, a compass, and a map.

Some BBYO members choose to expand their relationship with Judaism even further by participating in the Summer Experience “Kallah.” This camp-like program is three weeks of exploring Judaism in ways that are personally inaccessible in any other environment. When I went this past summer, I came back a changed person. It helped me discover where I belong in Judaism, what it means for me to be a Jew, and allowed me to establish my Jewish identity.

While I used to refuse to schlep to the Reform synagogue down the street more than twice a year, I am now motivated to attend services at the Chabad every Saturday morning and make an effort to dedicate myself to my religion. I should make a disclaimer that this is not necessarily a common occurrence for BBYO members. However, BBYO is where the magic can happen, and where the magic happened for me.

To view previous editions of "Teen Voice", please click here.

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