Jewish unity prevails in BBYO in wake of tragedy


  On a clear, bright Wednesday night, Chloe Castro abandons her history homework to attend the BBYO Spring Thing planning meeting at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. About ten high-schoolers gather around a table in an empty auditorium among cookies and MacBooks galore, with not an adult in sight.

  Castro is mazkirah, the secretary of the South Jersey region of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, better recognized as BBYO. BBYO is, as defined by their website, “ the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement aspiring to involve more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences”. Or “your typical youth group”, as described by Castro.

  However, this organization seems to go far beyond hymns and gaga ball. Students from eighth to twelfth grade are encouraged to attend conventions with other Jewish teens in the area, become a part of boards and committees, and overall get involved in Jewish life. The unique thing about this so-called youth group? It is entirely student-run.

  At this meeting on April 17, teens are planning an event called “Spring Thing”– their end-of-year convention where members celebrate their successful year and say somber goodbyes to seniors about to embark on their college journeys.

  Castro’s duties include promoting the event through social media, training the mazkirim (secretaries of the chapters within the region), and taking part in planning. The team meets weekly in anticipation of the convention and each member takes on a different role, whether it’s designing online flyers, creating pamphlets, or editing videos– it’s all-hands-on-deck to put on the event of the year.

  “Being able to run an entire convention is impeccable- it’s nothing that any school or club can provide you. It is really a gift to be able to learn so much about the planning process,” says Castro, who joined the organization in eighth grade, but didn’t become active until freshman year.

  It’s a family affair for most members. Both Castro and the n’siah (president) of the Ohev BBG chapter, Jordyn Malmud, joined BBYO after witnessing the great experiences of family members. “My cousin was in the chapter that I’m currently in and she always came home with stories. I just always knew it was something I had to do,” says Malmud.

  BBYO has cracked her shell. As president, Malmud is seen as a guide to other members. Formerly reserved and shy, being involved in the group has helped her speak confidently in front of people, which she says will come in handy for her desired future career- a teacher.

  Boys are also included and are a key role in BBYO. Justen Joffe from Cherry Hill is a perfect paradigm of this description. Joffe, alongside a female counterpart, serves as a president. He oversees every executive function of the region and drives much of the programming and manages the regional board. “We are overall just responsible for the well-being of each individual in each chapter of the South Jersey region,” Joffe says with pride.

 He believes the program gives a platform to all. “If you merely just want to play football with a bunch of Jewish teens because you’re not good enough to play on a sports team, that’s fine. If you want to explore your Jewish roots and maybe get bar mitzvah’d for the first time, that’s also fine. Or if you wanna pursue leadership, that’s also great,” says Joffe of the many opportunities BBYO offers.

  “Public speaking, communications, leadership, and mobilization– I don’t think these are needed just for college, I think these are for life. In any job where you pursue leadership whether you’re a manager or a chief of staff or anything of the nature, you’re gonna be imploring these skills,” Joffe believes.

  And at the core of BBYO, underneath all the social networking and leadership, is religion. This is where so many members find solace and solidarity.

  “That’s where my heart is. I love it because you can focus more on the Judaism rather than the other folds of BBYO,” says Malmud of an event called Kallah, which is a more religious occasion.

     Spring Thing will take place just a month after the San Diego synagogue mass shooting, which killed one person and injured three another example of the anti-Semitism so prevalent in society today. Members of BBYO discuss anti-Semitism often in Shabbat and Havdallah services, and they all feel the loss of their community.

  “An attack on one is an attack on all,” said Castro. “It’s sickening to see people so hateful towards something so trivial like religion. I know all my friends feel the same. I don’t think anyone is not bothered by anti-Semitism unless they’re anti-Semitic themselves.”

  The special connection of being Jewish is what builds the bridge between thousands of teens. Malmud truly believes that the members of BBYO have an unbreakable relationship, bonded by Judaism.

  Eventually, all members will have to let go as they graduate high school and move on to college. Castro plans on joining a sorority, as she thinks she already has some similar experience. Others, like Malmud and Joffe, want to use their leadership skills to bolster themselves in the real world.

  “Being a part of BBYO is being a part of something bigger than yourself,” says Castro, “and that is really, really special.”