Jewish youth groups connect students, transform lives


BBYO members convence at a chapter meeting. BBYO is a Jewish youth group that fosters relationships in a fun, inclusive environment. Photo courtesy Frannie Cohen-Dumani.

By Eric Neugeboren

It’s no secret Whitman has a large Jewish populationthere are more than 10 local synagogues. Many of the students who attend these synagogues also participate in local youth groups where they create relationships and memories with other Jewish kids from the area and discover their Jewish identities.


On a Saturday night after a long week of school, the Ko’ach BBYO chapter convenes for a night of relaxing and activities. They reveal secrets, reminisce about previous gatherings and escape from the stresses of school and adolescent life.

BBYO, short for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, is popular among students. It connects Jewish teens around the world through conventions and activities.

Each member is assigned to a chapter based on their location and gender. Boys are placed in Aleph Zadik Aleph, while girls participate in B’nai B’rith Girls.

BBYO is based on four core values: inclusivity, Jewish identity, tradition and active leadership. It promotes respect and acceptance, Northeast Director Josh Stevens said.

“We are fully inclusive of Jewish teens no matter their sexual orientation, their interests and how they observe Judaism,” Stevens said.

Each chapter meets on Monday nights to discuss community service and upcoming events. On some Wednesdays, the chapters hold fundraisers for local charities, and on Saturdays, they convene for lighter activities, like sleepovers.

Junior Sarah Clement likes that BBYO isn’t too time-consuming and is still a meaningful activity.

“I really like how it’s not a big commitment, but it is still a fun way to meet more people and have a new group of friends,” Clement said.

The group also enables students to forge otherwise unlikely friendships, junior Frannie Cohen-Dumani said.

“I’ve met a lot of middle schoolers and people older than me that I wouldn’t have been friends with,” Cohen-Dumani said. “I like how you can meet people outside of schools and feel really close to others.”

BBYO provides students with a thorough understanding of Jewish life, which can potentially benefit their futures, Clement said.

“I’ve been able to learn a whole new take about being Jewish and living in the world today,” Clement said. “It’s really prepared me for what I may face in the future.”

Her father Dan Clementonce a member of the Montgomery County AZA chapternow advises the group and hopes to pass on his experiences to his children.

“I think my kids will develop leadership skills and a Jewish experience as they realize what Judaism means to them,” Dan Clement said. “BBYO is about providing a meaningful Jewish experience.”


Hundreds of Reform Jews gather for a weekend retreat. After not seeing each other for months, friends reconnect, sharing stories and memories of previous retreats. On Friday night, they gather and recite Jewish prayers and songs. The next day they participate in a day of team-building activities and discussions. This is a classic NFTY gathering.

NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth, is the main teen youth group for Reform Jews. It consists of 19 regions across North America with each region accommodating over 200 members.

NFTY doesn’t host as many gatherings as BBYO; each region plans five events per year. Events include relaxing gatherings,  programming, religious activities and political discussions.

The group is centered around the Jewish idea of “Tikkun Olam,” meaning repairing the world. It works to spread awareness on mental health, social justice and LGBT rights. The goal is that this education will be beneficial for society, NFTY Regional Director of Youth Ellie Tepper said.

“Teens are the future so by educating them, we can make the world a better place,” Tepper said. “They often feel like they have no voice but I think they have the most important voice.”

Senior Madison Holt, an executive board member for the Mid-Atlantic region, enjoys the welcoming aspect of NFTY.

“The way we program is so that you’re allowed to build your own perspectives,” Holt said. “We don’t want to force people to believe a certain way.”

The group has impacted junior Danielle Hazan’s life in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

“I have friends all over that have changed my life,” Hazan said. “They’re some of the best people I know.”