B’nai B’rith Youth Organization

Jewish teens come together for seminar


Luca Ortega

Arlington teens, members of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization

The B’nai B’rith (meaning “Children of the Covenant”) youth organization is a very prominent and established jewish group in the United States with nearly 40,000 members nationwide. In the east, the DMV chapters, including the councils of Baltimore, DC, and NOVA, convened from November 5 to November 7. The 456 jewish teens laughed, cried, and made friends as they explored their culture and religion with prayer and seminars at this event. For a few of our school’s students this was an important event they participated in.

With a heavy emphasis on self-governing by the members, the B’nai B’rith power structure generally relies on elected members to plan and coordinate events. This event was no exception, with hundreds of attendees. Thus, the challenge of  planning was no small feat.

“We begin planning in about a month and a half, two months before the convention every week, getting zooms and planning the convention as a team so that it can be really, really fun for all the participants,” senior at Yorktown  and event coordinator for the regional convention,Ben Rosenthal, said. 

As the six person staff was in charge of the activities of 456 members, the 6 coordinators had a lot of work cut out for them. 

“There were many hiccups in the planning [and] it wasn’t perfect by any means,” Rosenthal said. “But I think that everybody that went had a really good time, which was our overall goal.”

A large portion of the convention had been chapter-level events and held a variety of activities. There was a talent show, along with a chapter competition with the prize of the spirit gavel, an award given to the team that competed the best and demonstrated the best sportsmanship and integrity throughout the weekend.  

      The chapter events were a variety of games, sing-offs and several other competitions, mostly unrelated to the actual practice of Judaism, but all of them following common themes of the organization. BBYO has a lot of tropes and jewish like traditions, acronyms and various handshakes that make it a special experience . The games were fun and mostly good spirited. With the games there was a spread of outfits and little knick knacks that attendance were encouraged to bring. Along with the Knick Knack each attendee is encouraged to bring special outfits for what they call spirit days, each chapter is prompted to think of a theme and have all of the members bring something to complete the theme.  

In Arlington the local chapter is called Madlik, meaning light in Hebrew. There are around 40 members in total and a large number of them attend Yorktown High school as well as our school. I had an opportunity to talk to the Godol (president of the chapter) Noah Schoenbrun, junior at our school.

“I had to plan our spirit days with the seniors in our chapter so, we had frat boys day, togas, the jerseys for our chapter, we switched outfits with our sister chapter and we made and sold shirts for breast cancer awareness.” 

For the convention there was an obvious abundance of spirit and energy, though safety precautions had to be taken since the event was  held at the residence Inn hotel . To stay safe, participants were required to have a mask on at all times except when sleeping and eating. There were also pretty strict no movement hotel policies at night. As for other guests, they had the misfortune of dealing with 456 rowdy teens which resulted in some comedic interactions, including a trapped elevator. 

With COVID-19 procedures, many previous regional convention events were unavailable. However, the biggest change this year was that one day less than normal was offered. Along with it being a day shorter, there was the absence of a very popular tradition in the region’s history known as “The Wall”. With this lack of interaction caused by Covid procedures, a social change inside was the utilization of social media, primarily an app called Jodel which is an anonymous public forum that groups audiences based on GPS proximity used for large scale communication.

At the convention there were also more thought provoking events, including a workshop by comedian Leah Foster, who told her story of coming out in an orthodox jewish community. Along with the workshop there were several shabbat services which are services with prayers that focus on rest.

“[In these] services the leaders focused on the fortune the attendees had,” Schoenbar said.  “I would like to describe us as a group where everyone happens to be Jewish.