When thousands of Jewish teens, professionals and community leaders descend upon Atlanta this February, we will be able to celebrate being Jewish, both as individual movements and together as one Jewish people.
by Michaela Brown, Andrew Keene and Mika Stein
Just last week, millions of Jews around the world gathered to partake in the Passover seder, the age-old tradition of retelling the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery. Tradition teaches us, “All who are hungry, come and eat, all who are needy, come and celebrate Passover!” At this time of year, we are reminded that we are part of the greater Jewish peoplehood, regardless of how we identify or where we come from.
Meaningful, inspiring, joyous gatherings should not happen just once a year; they should be common occurrences – the norm. We are working together to make this a reality.
BBYO and NFTY, two movements devoted to connecting and inspiring the next generation of Jews, not only recognize this opportunity, but are also taking action to reach even more Jewish youth.
NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement, and BBYO, the leading international pluralistic Jewish youth movement, have already made large strides in collaboration between teen leaders in local communities. Our shared mission is to engage more teens in Jewish life. The first step is finding ways for our leaders to work together to reach beyond our current populations.
In Milwaukee, teens from several movements gather regularly to share best practices and engage in community programs. Teens from BBYO and NFTY in Florida are attending each other’s regional events to gain a better understanding of both communities. Newly elected international leaders from both organizations, like those in St. Louis, are learning from each other to see how they can work better together. These are just a few early collaborations, and indicators of more to come.
Our two movements combined, however, reach only 15% of teenagers who identify as Jewish. The opportunity for growth is clear and vital, and together, we are more capable of engaging Jewish teens through dynamic and inspiring events.
We have already seen this strategy in action. J-Serve, the international day of Jewish youth service, engages more than 10,000 teens annually, including youth from both organizations. Also this year, NFTY and BBYO, along with other movements, led a hunger advocacy initiative dubbed “Hunger is Not a Game.” Nearly 7,000 Jewish teens participated in food drives at movie premieres across North America to collect 17,000 pounds of food to feed those in need. And teen leaders across movements meet often as part of the Coalition of Jewish Teens (CJT), which coordinates these and other meaningful collaborations.
Our synergy is growing and there is no better way to share big moments than at our two conventions. With BBYO and NFTY’s conventions both in Atlanta in February 2015, we have the opportunity to elevate our work together in person. From there, our joint actions will speak volumes.
When thousands of Jewish teens, professionals and community leaders descend upon Atlanta this February, we will be able to celebrate being Jewish, both as individual movements and together as one Jewish people. Our conventions have always been a reminder that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and next February that will include being bigger than our individual affiliations. We see this as a springboard to reach our peers and friends who are not connected to Jewish life.
There are many pathways to living an intentionally Jewish life, and BBYO and NFTY are two. It is our hope that by working together to reach out, more Jewish teens will find opportunities to grow as individuals, become strong Jewish leaders, make positive change in the world and have fun together. Just as we opened our doors on Passover to all, we welcome every Jewish teen to join us in Atlanta in February.
L’shana haba’ah l’Atlanta ~ Next year in Atlanta!
Michaela Brown is International N’siah, President, B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG), BBYO.
Andrew Keeneis is President, NFTY.
Mika Stein is Grand Aleph Godol, President, Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA), BBYO.