Two Maryland teens have been elected to the board of BBYO International, with Baltimore’s Rebecca Sereboff serving as international president, or n’siah, and Montgomery County’s Allie Kalik as international vice president of membership, or aym ha’chaverot.
The elections took place over Presidents Day weekend as nearly 5,000 teenagers, community leaders and activists from across the globe gathered in Dallas, Texas, for this year’s BBYO International Convention. Already among the largest Jewish conferences in the nation, this year’s gathering was the organization’s largest conference ever. Participants heard from political figures, entrepreneurs, entertainers and activists. During the event, Alan Gross, the Washington government contractor who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years, was named BBYO’s AZA Alumnus of the Year.
At the music-filled opening ceremonies, packed with teens decked out with hats and jerseys, the strong positive connection was palpable..
“I have not been in a room in my entire life with so many teens, so much energy, and so much hope. Thank you for the hope,” said Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
For Sereboff, a senior at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore who will defer college a year to serve as n’siah and travel to Jewish communities throughout the world, that opening ceremony was her favorite moment. To see so many people come together as Jews “was a powerful and meaningful moment that after all we’ve been through, we’re still here,” she said. As n’siyah for BBYO’s BBG girls division, Sereboff is co-president with the gadol of the AZA boys division.
One of Sereboff’s goals as president is to help her fellow teens recognize that through their engagement and connections to other Jews, not only are they having fun but “they’re [also] ensuring a stronger and brighter future.” Teens can go into BBYO and build their own experiences, said Sereboff, 17, whether going to daily minyan or skipping services all together.
Both she and Kalik spoke of the strong friendships formed through BBYO. “They’re my best friends. I trust them with my life,” Kalik, 16, said.
Their BBYO Northern Region East, 170 strong, was one of the largest delegations to IC.
JTS’ Eisen was among the scores of speakers who addressed the convention, including Yechiel “Chilik” Bar, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset; Julián Castro, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development; Andrew Frates, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge creator; historian Deborah Lipstadt, author of “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” on which the movie Denial is based; actor Joshua Malina; and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX).
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban addressed the conference via video.
Rivlin spoke of the “bonds of all Jews wherever they may be,” while Lipstadt told the teens to be upstanders instead of bystanders, and speak truth to power when needed.
Gross noted that his “work over the last nearly five decades was greatly influenced by experiences derived from BBYO as a member, volunteer, staff and later as a parent.”
For those unable to attend IC 2017, BBYO livestreamed select sessions on Facebook Live and, for the first time, in 360 Virtual Reality on YouTube.