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.