My friend dragged me to an event for Jewish teens and it changed my life. Going to a public high school, I didn’t feel very connected to the Jewish community, nor did I want to be. I had friends, was involved in all sorts of extra curricular activities, and spent a lot of time with my family; I didn’t need anything more. But when I walked into that event and was welcomed by a group of kids greeting me with open arms, I realized that the Jewish community had more to offer than just Bar Mitzvah lessons.
The kids I met that day instantly made me feel like I belonged with them, they made me feel special, and soon enough they became my best friends. I will never make so many lifelong friends at once ever again.
This sort of experience is common for teens at BBYO: a teen-led Jewish youth movement that reaches about 70,000 teens annually in 60 countries around the world. In the GTA, members meet with their chapters weekly for programs they plan for each other. A program could be anything from playing flag football to making bracelets to learning how to stand up to anti-semitism. About twice a month, chapters come together for regional programs (groups of chapters make regions), and each year, there are opportunities to attend international programs.
To teens, I describe BBYO as a “high school fraternity and sorority” or as “sleepover camp in the city” because of the tight-knit community feel to it and the colossal amounts of fun members have. To parents, I highlight the way BBYO empowers teens to build leadership skills, engage in philanthropy, and seek out Jewish experiences.
BBYO gave me older friends to look up to, younger friends to mentor, a new appreciation for the Jewish community, and a purpose at the start of the pandemic before I graduated.
Now that I have moved to Hamilton, I have the opportunity to share my passion for BBYO with a city that hasn’t had a chapter in over 20 years. In 2001, BBYO split from B’nai B’rith International leading to many chapters, including those in Hamilton, to fold. Along with the help of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, BBYO Ontario is re-establishing a chapter in Hamilton. This chapter will have a positive, welcoming environment where teens can connect, grow, and immerse themselves in everything BBYO has to offer.
We’re having our first event, an Open House, on Monday, Sept. 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Yogurty’s (1309 Main Street West). All Jewish teens in Grades 8-12 and their families are invited to stop by to enjoy some free frozen yogurt, meet our staff, and learn about the rest of our upcoming events!
Next, on Monday, Oct. 3, teens are invited to join us (for free!) for our Hamilton Kickoff event at Flying Squirrel Indoor Trampoline Park. Next, we have a free event at University Lanes Bowling on Oct.15 featuring two chapters from Toronto! Then from Oct. 21 to 23, members will have the opportunity to join the rest of our region at our annual Fall Convention! We also have an event at Hamilton Indoor Go Karts on Oct. 25.
For more information about these events and to RSVP, check out bbyo.ca/hamilton.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
PHOTO CAPTION: Jack Rosenbaum (right) and his friend at the 2018 BBYO International Convention in Orlando, Florida.