A Congregation Rabbi Responds to “BBYO and Synagogues”

Something has struck a chord, and as a result, in a little over a year we’ve changed the lives of 55 Jewish teens.

by Rabbi David Saiger

I want to commend Adam Tennen on his recent article “BBYO and Synagogues” and eJP for creating a forum for this vital conversation. I’m the Assistant Rabbi of Temple Sholom in Greenwich, CT, where in Fall 2012 we started the Greater Greenwich BBYO Chapter, called Judah BBYO. As a Conservative shul, we’ve always been affiliated with USY, and continue to maintain a USY chapter with a handful of members.

But something interesting happened when we added a BBYO chapter to our menu of options (including a teen choir and religious school volunteer (madrichim) program) for teens. In August of 2012 I took 2 of our teens who were interested in getting the BBYO chapter started to a regional leadership training day, and from those 2 grew a program of incredible strength. With the support of the Connecticut Valley Region’s Director Josh Cohen, we learned how to run great programs, recruit new members, and use the BBYO model to transform the lives of teens in our area. By the end of our first programming year, we had a chapter of 45 members. These numbers were unprecedented in our Synagogue’s youth group history. By the end of 2013, we’re up to 55 members and we’ve also started a BBYO Connect program for our 6th-8th graders.

I act as one of the advisors of the co-ed chapter, along with a lay leader from Temple Sholom who grew up in BBYO, Desiree Katcher. A bit over half of the members of Judah BBYO are affiliated with Temple Sholom, while the others may be unaffiliated or belong to other synagogues in the area. The incredible rate of involvement has led the Temple Board to approve a complete renovation of our youth lounge, giving the BBYOers the chance to help create a space that would be great marketing material as they work to recruit their friends.

I often hear from parents of our BBYO teens that they never would have expected their kid – who had no great love for religious school – to be so enthusiastic about a Jewish youth group. The reasons why BBYO is working so well for our community are various and complicated, and would require a longer article. But what’s simple is the fact that something has struck a chord, and as a result, in a little over a year we’ve changed the lives of 55 Jewish teens. And that’s just the beginning.

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Comments

  1. It would be very interesting to learn “The reasons why BBYO is working so well for our community ” and why your USY chapter has not seen similar success when presumably it should have had access to the same resources (people and non-people). From the numbers you present, it sounds like 23+ of your temple members are participating in BBYO events and only 5+ are participating in the USY programming. Has any one ask the 18+ missing USY members, why are they avoiding USY? Are the 5+ members of your USY chapter also active participants in BBYO? I would be also curious, does your BBYO chapter hold programming events which conflict with the scheduling of USY programming events? And does your BBYO chapter hold programming events which conflict with Shabbat services or religious school participation? In our area, the last two questions would be answered in the affirmative which may be one reason why unfortunately the synagogues look at BBYO as competitive threat around here.

  2. JP-
    I’m working on something that explains a bit more. But in a nutshell, in our area BBYO is very strong and religiously speaking the right fit for our teens. The BBYO traditions, teen leadership structure and communications are big factors as well.
    I’ve answered your more specific questions below:
    Has any one ask the 18+ missing USY members, why are they avoiding USY? They aren’t avoiding it as much as it’s not on their radar. It’s only on the radar of our day school or Ramah teens, which are a tiny minority.

    Are the 5+ members of your USY chapter also active participants in BBYO? yes

    I would be also curious, does your BBYO chapter hold programming events which conflict with the scheduling of USY programming events? could be, but not as a general rule

    And does your BBYO chapter hold programming events which conflict with Shabbat services or religious school participation? never

  3. In our case BBYO does schedule events that conflict with the observance of Shabbat and the attendance in both Shabbat Services and religious school attendance. It also schedules events that conflict with temple youth group programming. I think to move toward away from the competitive relationship and toward a supportive complementary one that Adam envisions requires an active effort to avoid such conflicts. It sounds like your BBYO is further along that path. Given the participation rates and what both groups provide for their members, what is the value that you see for your congregation to continue to have a USY group? Are you trying to use BBYO participation as a means to foster and increase USY participation. I will be interest to read more on what your write that makes your BBYO organization so successful. Thanks again for responding.

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