Home October 2011 BBYO Is Back

BBYO Is Back

Many adults remember their experiences in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organzation (BBYO) with a great deal of fondness.  BBYO has given more than 250,000 teens a pluralistic way of learning about and identifying with Judaism, developing leadership skills, making friends and engaging in fun and meaningful activities with a Jewish twist.
According to BBYO’s website (www.bbyo.org), “Since their establishment in 1924 and 1944, the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) and B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG) have served as BBYO’s core teen leaders.  With more than 600 chapters worldwide, AZA and BBG, rooted in brotherhood and sisterhood, provide a place for teens to build a movement capable of creating change surrounding today’s critical issues all while learning important skills such as public speaking, event planning, and project management. AZA and BBG teens also explore their Jewish identities on a deeply personal level while developing lifelong friendships and having fun.”
BBYO’s website promises “a great group of friends and plenty of opportunities to help build your character, confidence and social calendar” and “opportunities for you to have fun in a comfortable, inclusive environment where lifelong friendships, skills and value systems are developed and nurtured.”  Its leadership offerings “empower teens to create and lead their own programs,” and Jewish teens have “opportunities to play sports, travel, do community service and learn more about Jewish heritage.”
In 2002 B’nai B’rith separated from BBYO, and the latter underwent a period of transition.  There were questions about how to maintain the identity of the organization and have youthful marketability, according to Melissa Hertwig, Program Associate, Southern California BBYO.
“Now there’s a clear movement to go back to our roots, connect with alumni and let parents know there are chapters in the area,” Hertwig said.  “A lot of change needs to happen, the staff needs refreshing and relationships need to be built or rebuilt.”
Relating that the teens do a great deal to plan their own programs, Hertwig explained that she supervises programs in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Pomona Valley.  Currently, there are four Orange County chapters of BBYO, with adult volunteers serving as advisors “to make sure the teens are doing what they should be doing.”
Hertwig, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, wants to “make Orange County a bustling Jewish community for BBYO.”  Having served as a BBYO advisor, she is “very happy to be on board.”  She explained that her non-profit passion led to a full-time job, and she made the leap this year.
For the past four years Hertwig has been working in non-scripted television.  Most recently she worked at Genetic Entertainment collaborating with three creative partners to develop fully formatted reality shows for both domestic and international markets.
In 2006 Hertwig co-created Higher Edge Scholars, a 501(c)(3) corporation designed to mentor high-achieving, low-income Los Angeles public high school students.  Through workshops, application coaching and SAT problem-solving, she has seen more than eighty teenagers “not only earn admission to top ranked schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Brown and UC Berkeley (my alma mater), but also secure substantial scholarships and grants to pay for their higher education,” she explained.
In August of 2009, two of the teens that Hertwig had mentored in Higher Edge asked if she would like to take on the responsibility of becoming advisor to their chapter of BBYO.  After being introduced to the BBYO family and learning the many, many acronyms and Hebrew named positions in the organization, she became advisor to Ahavah, Sand N’ Sea and JFK, all chapters in the West Los Angeles area.
“I have striven to serve as a strong, positive Jewish role model by sharing my ideas for chapter growth and enrichment, exploring challenges and seeking solutions with the teens and encouraging BBYO members to strive for excellence,” Hertwig said.  “I am thrilled to be working with Pacific Coast Region, my home and my community, and I am excited to see it grow and prosper.”
In only her third month on the job, Hertwig is “having fun and very positive.”  She explained that ten regional board members oversee all chapters in Southern California, and “I forget that they’re teenagers.”  These teens plan huge events, such as conventions, where there are 250 attendees.  While exploring their Jewish identities and socializing with other teens, they are building leadership skills.
Individual chapters have principles, such as sisterhood/brotherhood, advocacy, Jewish heritage and community service, Hertwig explained.  “They have to create mindful programming, programming with a purpose, under strict guidelines,” she said.  “Friday night programs have to include Shabbat observance, and Saturday night programs have to include Havdallah.  Teens have to learn how to reserve a place, decide whether there will be dinner or not and know what to charge.  They learn from their successes as well as their failures – why people do or do not attend.  Then the experience becomes part of their toolbox.”
Hertwig hopes that these experiences will help teens “to take the initiative in their formative years, to develop and explore their passion as Jews.”  She described the process as “extremely powerful.”
Currently, the Pacific Coast Region has 550 teens from Santa Clarita to Orange County, with 75 of them in Orange County and “room to grow,” according to Hertwig.  She noted that there has been a big shift in the Jewish population in Orange County and the South Bay.  She is hoping to work with the “beautiful JCC” to host conventions and sleepovers in the Orange County area.  Two advisors, David Wohlleban and Debra Slonim, are “fantastic resources” for BBYO in the OC area, she said.
“We want to have a connection with the Orange County area on a deeper level by teaching kids how to recruit properly, how to be leaders and how to develop skills and relationships that will last them a lifetime,” she concluded.
For more information on BBYO, contact Melissa Hertwig, Program Associate, Southern California BBYO, BBYO, Inc., 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036; phone: (323) 931-9507; fax: (323) 931-0811; e-mail: mhertwig@bbyo.org; web: www.bbyo.org.

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  1. If you are looking to join BBYO and live in IRVINE, NEWPORT BEACH, or any city in Southern Orange County contact me Oren Shaolian.

    (949) 735-1651

    I hail from Irvine AZA #2341, we are a very active chapter. We meet every Wednesday at Temple Bat Yam. And have events almost every Saturday night.

    • My husband and I would like to attend a group and get acquainted with like minded Jewish couples of our age. We are active, we travel, dine out and enjoy the theatre and movies. We are 70 years of age. We are also interested in involvement with the Jewish community in Orange County. We live in (east) Huntington Beach.

      Please contact me re. B’Nai B’nith.
      thanks, Susan

      • My husband and I would like to attend a group and get acquainted with like minded Jewish couples of our age. We are active, we travel, dine out and enjoy the theatre and movies. We are 70 years of age. We are also interested in involvement with the Jewish community in Orange County. We live in (east) Huntington Beach.

        Please contact me re. B’Nai B’nith.
        thanks, Susan

  2. Very excited to be working with Melissa and such a wonderful group of teens in the OC! As an alumnus, I am proud of where the organization is at. If you are a teen reading this…. JOIN NOW you won’t regret it. If you are an alumnus or alumna, we are grateful for your continued support. The Jewish Community needs your support. 🙂

    Shana Tovah v’Metukah to all! May it be an amazing 5772 for all!


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