What is IC? BBYO’s International Convention is a gathering of 2,500 Jewish teenagers from all around the world, with another 2,500 staff, speakers and special guests—putting
over 5,000 engaged Jewish leaders in a hotel together in Dallas for one week. In Finland, we don’t exactly have a BBYO chapter – B’nei Akiva has traditionally done the bulk of youth programming, and in my opinion the community is two small to support two organizations without competition. But it was still my pleasure to bring two of our leaders, Ida and Keren, to the BBYO convention—and they loved it.
Click here to view photos and videos from IC, including addresses by Justin Trudeau and Reuven Rivlin.
I almost didn’t make it to IC. Flights were expensive, and last year was the first time we sent teens to the BBYO convention, so
families were not yet acquainted with the program. IC also fell during an exam period, so up until a few weeks before departure I was still struggling to find teens who could attend. With the incredible help from BBYO who provided partial scholarships and other support, we were able to finalize our attendance two weeks before IC started.
Pre-IC. After 20 hours of travel, first to Amsterdam, then to Atlanta, and finally landing in Dallas at midnight, we made it to America in one piece. Before the big convention, we would spend a week with the entire international delegation and the Dallas Jewish community. We were picked up by host families from the Dallas Jewish community, and many of the international teens had never seen a Jewish community like it—the majority of the families were well-off, with large, suburban homes, pools and giant cars. I was housed with Becca, the fellow from Copenhagen, and we stayed with a very gracious family who took us to Trader Joe’s and the Dallas Mavericks vs. Celtics NBA game. We also had a chance to explore downtown Dallas and bask in the first sunlight we’d seen in months at the family’s outdoor pool!
Pre-IC was the perfect time to deepen connections with other JDC fellows and meet the other international staff. Each of the 30 countries represented brought along staff members roughly my age—from places including Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Russia, Croatia, Hungary, France and Lithuania. We spoke about our Jewish communities, our youth programs and the unique challenges we faced, and we created a network for future communication.
Keren and Ida loved Pre-IC. During the week, the teens visited a Jewish school in Dallas, toured around the stockyards and aquarium, participated in leadership and team building activities and engaged in service projects around the community. It was a chance for them to see what life was like for an American Jewish family, to experience living in a large Jewish community, to have a real Grammys party, and of course to make lasting friendships with Jewish teens from around the world.
We then moved into the massive Hyatt Regency Dallas, which was rented out completely for BBYO. The hotel went through an incredible transformation, with interactive stations set up around the lobby and various common areas. The teens participated in a day-long Global Partners Summit, where they discussed the current issue of refugees in a Jewish context. Then, over 1,000 American teens poured into the hotel and the International Convention began.
For BBYO, IC is their flagship event. Incredible amounts of work go into every detail of every program—especially during the plenaries where all 2,500 teens sit together. The speeches by famous actors, athletes, politicians and activists created powerful moments. Each of the smaller programs was planned by teens for teens.
For staff, IC was certainly work. We were up before 7 every day and programming lasted until midnight. We were in charge of managing the flow of 2,500 teens through three elevators, making sure programs ran smoothly, and most importantly, making sure the teens from our delegations were enjoying themselves and getting the most out of the program.
The events were meaningful, but it was the idea of IC that was so special for the teens and for the staff. BBYO is a democratic organization, and the teens were made to feel powerful, that their voice and opinion mattered. All programs were planned by and led by their own peers. There were voting sessions akin to Model-UN meetings and it was also a space for teens to be teens – there were dances and social events, and some of the most fun times for my teens were spent hanging out with their new friends from Argentina, Hungary, America and all over the world.
Here we are giving a presentation about Finland during Limud:
Too soon, the convention was over—although by then, I think the staff had exhausted the seemingly never-ending supplies of Keurig coffee and bagels in the staff lounge and all of the games of Heads Up that didn’t require American cultural references. I came back to Helsinki with an entire carry-on full of food, new friends and connections and 2 weeks of memories that I hadn’t quite processed, because 24 hours later I was on a plane to Israel for the JDC Mid-Year Seminar.
It was an incredible two weeks, and the only thing I regret is that I was not able to capitalize on the momentum directly after returning to Finland. Keren and Ida were certainly inspired by the possibilities of pluralistic programming, where they felt that their level of Judaism was accepted and celebrated, the relevance of the programs to their lives, and the power of BBYO as an international organization.
The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.