Shabbat with BBYO: More than Prayer Services

by Rachel Meytin

1500 teens, 150 staff, 300 volunteers, another 50 parents, friends and alumni. 18 countries from around the globe. Shabbat at BBYO’s International Convention had a lot of numbers, but the best is just one: one Shabbat.

Over two thousand Jews celebrated Shabbat together, starting by sharing a communal dinner. The crescendo of singing the birchat hamazon, the blessings after the meal, sent shivers through the group as the in- and out-of tune voices all joined together in song. But, the experience, and the powerful message, didn’t end there.

At International Convention, BBYO teens planned 24 different and distinct Shabbat services to create the Shabbat experience that they envisioned. The teens were committed to modeling pluralism and to a willingness to explore new ways to experience Judaism. Teens from around the globe envisioned these services, selected the prayers and wrote the scripts. Reform-style and Orthodox-style services took place next to each other. There were services focused on modern Israel’s additions to technology and on the unity of all Jews around the world.

Shabbat with BBYO is more than just prayer services. Saturday, during International Convention, featured an expanded “Limmud IC” – a four hour learning extravaganza framed by BBYO’s Educational Framework, a strategy and structure around which all BBYO learning is centered. The 60 session options led by teens, staff, alumni and community guests looked at the three components of BBYO’s Educational Framework learning objectives to create an environment where teens can

Identify: Strengthen Jewish Identity;

Connect: Create Jewish Community; and

Improve: Change the world.

Teens had the opportunity to learn with BBYO alumni who have started businesses and who run non-profit organizations, study Biblical texts and modern Israel political stories, strengthen their own leadership and facilitation skills and explore their current and future selves.

2,000 people, one Shabbat. The twenty-five hours closed with powerful Havdallah services that combined song, stories, text study and reflection. But, the experience didn’t end with International Convention. It went home with each participant, each volunteer and each family. Each person took home a positive example of what Shabbat can be.

Rachel Meytin is the Director of BBYO Panim Institute and Jewish Enrichment.