A Teen Perspective from The White House Event

Leadership, the Jewish Community, the White House: Our Role in All of Them
by Jeremy Sherman and Arielle Braude

When we were elected as International Presidents of BBYO, Inc., never in our wildest dreams did we think we would be invited to the White House. But there we were today, attending the first-ever White House reception marking Jewish Heritage Month. We began to realize how much our role does not exist in a vacuum, and that although we are teens, we, too, are important Jewish leaders.

Our adventure this afternoon started when we gathered with the U.S. presidents of several other Jewish teen movements. Danielle Borrin, the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, helped show us the ropes and introduce us around – and we were so excited to learn that she herself is a proud BBYO alumna. The White House was incredible, and we saw the places we read about in our history books… the Red Room, the Green Room… and then came the biggest moment of all. We were given the chance to meet President and Mrs. Obama in the Blue Room. It was truly the moment of a lifetime for us.

The afternoon continued as we interacted with one amazing Jewish leader after another, from all different walks of life. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. Baseball great Sandy Koufax, famous children’s literature author Judy Blume and Regina Spektor, one of our favorite musicians. We were surrounded by hundreds of other Jewish leaders of every industry who were equally excited to be there and part of the inaugural event at the White House. Our roles as teen leaders in the Jewish community are vital to impacting thousands of young people just like us, but to be recognized as leaders in the overall Jewish community by President Obama and his Administration gives us an entirely new perspective as we’re starting our terms.

Given the number of BBYO alumni we bumped into, it is clear that BBYO has had a real impact on building and inspiring the Jewish community for hundreds of thousands of young people during its 85 year history. This reception was a highlight of how teens are an important part of the community of leaders who are making a difference in the world. We are committed to service and advocacy in our local communities and to dedicating ourselves to some of society’s most pressing social challenges. We are proud to represent a teen movement that collectively volunteered 80,000 hours of local community service this year, and raised $150,000 for charitable programs that are helping the underserved all over North America and the world. We also worked together with our partners at USY, NFTY, NCSY, JSU and Young Judaea to promote a Jewish teen response to the crisis in Haiti, ultimately engaging more than 10,000 teens in an emergency relief campaign.

We look forward to engaging with additional Jewish organizations to brainstorm how BBYO teen leaders can have a bigger impact and create a stronger, more passionate Jewish community. We want to expand the relationships we started today with other inspiring young Jewish leaders, to connect with them more often and use those times to discuss broadening the scope of the great work that goes on around the world. This reception marked the beginning of Jewish Heritage Month, but it should not mark the end of the connection between so many young leaders.

Now that the evening has quieted down, we’re pondering our next big dream:
“How can we get President Obama to write our college recommendation letters?”

Jeremy Sherman, 17, is from West Bloomfield, Michigan. Arielle Braude, 18, is from Cherry Hill, NJ. They have been elected to serve as the BBYO International Teen Presidents (Grand Aleph Godol and International N’siah) for the 2010-2011 academic year.