More than 2,500 Jewish teens gathered in Baltimore from Feb. 17-20 for BBYO’s International Convention (IC), the organization's first global in-person event in two years.
BBYO, a pluralistic movement for Jewish teens, engages thousands of high school students in more than 700 chapters around the world. IC serves as the keynote event of the year when teen leaders from 40 countries join together along with educators, thought leaders, philanthropists, and others to celebrate, dream, and take action.
Among the guests were a contingent of professionals and college student leaders from Hillel International, attending as part of Hillel Bridge. This newly established program seeks to connect Jewish high school students and their families with Hillel and introduce younger students to Jewish life on campus.
Jessie Paley, a former BBYO participant who works for Hillel International, reflected on attending the conference as a professional representing Hillel.
“Engaging with the future Jewish leaders of our local Hillels on campus has been energizing, nostalgic, and inspiring,” Paley said. “I’m excited for the longevity of this work and excited to see where these BBYO leaders take the Hillel movement for years to come.”
The Hillel team kept busy during the four-day conference, hosting a booth that attracted nearly 1,000 students. At the booth, students grabbed stickers and ribbons, spoke with Hillel professionals, and entered a raffle to win one of four hoverboards. Students were also invited to write on graffiti boards, which featured prompts such as “Seniors, where are you going for college?” and “Sophomores, what’s a question you have about Jewish life on campus?”
On Saturday, Hillel hosted inflatable laser tag and a pet-a-puppy event, where teens attending the convention cuddled with four-legged friends from a nearby animal shelter to decompress. Hillel wrapped up the weekend with a sponsored senior breakfast, where graduating high school students could connect, celebrate, and learn even more about Jewish life on campus.
Hailey Behrman, a marketing intern for Hillel International and student president of Hillel at George Mason University, said she felt proud to share her experience on campus with so many students.
“We heard multiple students say something along the lines of ‘Hillel won this weekend,’ meaning that we had some of the coolest events, which made it a huge success in my opinion,” Behrman said. “It was amazing to see students excited about the next step in their Jewish journey and simulating the Hillel experience with fun, community, and anticipation.”
Joining the Hillel team to bring the student perspective were Jordan Robinson and Sarah Pomerantz, who are current members of the Hillel International Student Cabinet and former BBYO participants.
“Being at BBYO’s International Convention representing Hillel International was such a cool experience,” said Robinson, a senior at Michigan State University. “Engaging with high school seniors on what their next steps are and how Hillel can be there for that transition, you could see a sense of comfort for the students, knowing that their future Jewish community would be there for them.”
Students also could choose from one of 24 different Shabbat experiences, including a service titled “The Power of Remembrance,” led by a song leader, a Holocaust survivor, and two students. Shabbat ended with a feel-good Havdalah service, where students, partners, staff, and community members stood arm-in-arm singing prayers and welcoming the new week.
Other highlights from the weekend included the BBYO Block Party, which featured the world championship of BBYO’s global eSports tournament in partnership with Lost Tribe; musical performances by Steve Aoki, Tai Verdes, Surfaces, and Social House; and one-of-a-kind experiences with NASA, TED, the National Aquarium, and the Autobahn Speedway.
“[BBYO] International Convention is a place where you engage and explore with the greater Jewish community,” Robinson said. “To be able to see and relive that again as a partner is something that I’m very grateful for.”