I am a member of Mishpacha BBYO, the only BBYO chapter in Hamilton, the next closest one being about an hour drive from here.
BBYO, which stands for B’nai Brith Youth Organization, is a non-profit, teen-led Jewish organization for Jewish youth. BBYO is spread across the whole world, and they have at least five chapters on every continent. Each chapter, region, and even the whole organization is led by teens.
From my experience of BBYO, which has been almost a full year now, I can truly say that it is a unique organization. I was a part of Mishpacha BBYO’s chapter board, and I oversaw bringing people to events and helping them register to become BBYO members.
I can testify to how much fun it was to start a chapter with just an average of four members at every meeting in the beginning. The pride I got from watching my chapter build up with my friends could be compared to the feeling of getting a high mark on a project you worked on. It was stressful, but the result is splendid.
At the beginning of the year, there was an event for BBYO where we got to go meet people and eat ice cream. Naturally I called my friends and we went together, and it was a fun event. BBYO continued to have more events that were very appealing to me and my friends, but I wasn’t able to go to all of them. Eventually, I was able to consistently attend events, and it was a bit awkward at first.
As I came to more events I got more comfortable, and BBYO started to feel more like a family for me.
“It’s a place where I can hang out with other Jewish teens and have fun, eat food, and there are no restraints so you can be Jewish in your own way,” said Itamar Lawton, one of our members. Another member, Leerum Chaimovitz, says, “I just go there to chill and have fun.”
At the end of December, we held elections for our chapter, and I ran for a position. I got the position I wanted and with that, the beginning of my BBYO life really started.
Throughout the year I worked with my fellow chapter members and we created tons of events, went to conventions, and eventually went axe throwing!
Over the course of my year of BBYO I have made tons of new friends and gained experience in volunteering and such.
Maggie Norris, the JCC program coordinator, gave me her take on the impact of BBYO.
“It’s a great way for Jewish teens to get together and to learn from one another, and it will help them develop the leadership skills they need for high school and for their whole life.”
I also interviewed the man who started it all, Jack Rosenbaum. Jack is our advisor, meaning he is the adult who makes all this possible and keeps us in check. When I asked Jack how BBYO Hamilton got started, Jack replied,
“We started by making connections with Jewish teens and ensuring they felt welcome at our events. It was important to me for BBYO to become a safe space for all teens, so that they would feel comfortable getting out of their comfort zone.”
Gustavo Rymberg, the CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, is excited for the future of BBYO. “It will take time to build up, but I know that you will leave a great impact on the Jewish community, and especially in leading the younger generation towards a better future."
In conclusion, Mishpacha BBYO has given me, its members, and the Jewish community a new type of Jewish programming, and in turn taught us how to become better leaders. I love my chapter with all my heart, and I hope to see how it will grow and embed itself in the Jewish community in Hamilton.
CAPTION: BBYO members pose with outgoing president Howard Eisenberg and adviser Jack Rosenbaum (front row, left) at Federation’s Shem Tov awards ceremony, where they were honoured with the President’s Award.