Atlanta Youth Movements Expand Collaboration

Atlanta Youth Movements Expand Collaboration

By April Basler /

Youth movements for Atlanta Jewish Times
BBYO and NFTY members prepare for a pre-elections leadership program.

Local NFTY and BBYO chapters are building on the spirit of cooperation displayed at the youth movements’ overlapping international conventions in Atlanta in mid-February.

In April, teens from Temple Beth Tikvah’s NFTY chapter in Roswell, HOTTY, attended Atlanta Council BBYO’s leadership workshop, and BBYO teens attended HOTTY’s leadership workshop, which included Temple Kol Emeth’s KEFTY from East Cobb as well.

Those workshops are examples of how Jewish teens in Atlanta aspire to work together with the goals of learning from one another and engaging more teens in Jewish life — goals that were on display when the Reform NFTY and nondenominational BBYO shared programming at their conventions. Those goals were also part of the pre-convention Coalition of Jewish Teens, which brought together leaders from NFTY, BBYO, the Conservative USY, the Orthodox NCSY and the nondenominational Young Judaea.

Every fall, BBYO’s Atlanta Council holds a leadership workshop geared toward high school freshmen, and the teens said they wanted more programming like it. More BBYO leadership workshops then were planned for the spring.

HOTTY also was planning a leadership workshop for teens.

Adam Griff, co-adviser for the Temple Beth Tikvah group and director of Adamah Adventures at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, Atlanta Council BBYO’s base, said: “The teen president of HOTTY, Aaron Schwartz, had a vision to try to do some leadership training in the month leading up to elections — in part to prepare for elections, but in part to improve the leadership skills of the youth group in general.”

David Hoffman, the BBYO director at the Marcus JCC, said: “When I brought up this program to Adam, he said that’s something that my teens want to do too. We both got really excited. It’s rare that something comes up from the teens that we think would fit for both of us. The challenge that we face is that BBYO and NFTY have different organizational structures.”

Hoffman said the youth directors didn’t know whether the programming planned for one group would be relevant for both.

“What we decided to do before we planned full-out leadership programs for both organizations was to do a test run where a couple of the HOTTY teens came to our program and a couple of the BBYO teens went to his program and got to learn from each other,” he said.

At each workshop, the teens learned about the other youth movement’s organizational structure, including how the leadership roles are divided and how the responsibilities are distributed. They also talked about teen empowerment within each organization.

“We did take time to find the connections between what is similar between our two organizations,” Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman and Griff, the leadership workshops were successful, and the teens enjoyed learning about another youth movement.

Emily Restler, 17, is HOTTY’s communications vice president and incoming president. She attended the BBYO workshop.

“We think that we do different things than BBYO, but a lot of them are very similar,” Emily said. “It was really interesting to hear their perspective on how they do things.”

Marni Rein, 16, is BBYO’s Atlanta Council vice president of membership, and she attended the HOTTY/KEFTY workshop. She said it is important for the youth movements to work together.

“We have so much to benefit and to learn from each other that I really think that the more we work together, the stronger that we can be,” she said.

Griff said this cooperation between the movements probably would have happened without the weekend of BBYO-NFTY unity during their international conventions, but the conversations in February helped set the stage for thinking in this direction.

Local collaboration among the youth movements preceded the conventions.

For the past four years, Atlanta-area members of NFTY, BBYO and USY have worshipped together at a teen Shabbat in October at Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb. That service is designed and implemented by a group of teen leaders from each movement with the support of the youth directors and includes a social program.

The teens also attend citywide programs that cut across the youth movements, such as J-Serve, an international teen community service day that the Marcus JCC coordinates locally.

In addition, the youth movements’ professional staffers in Atlanta have collaborated for some time. After all, Griff and Hoffman, who were ever-present at the conventions, both work with youth through the Marcus JCC.

“I think the future is more for adults working together to share resources for the adult leadership,” Griff said. “There’s a lot of value for the kids to have their youth group identities and to have the chapters.”

BBYO and NFTY teens and youth directors in Atlanta plan to continue working together, although shared events can be hard to schedule.

“We would all like to see more programs together and more diversity to reach more Jewish teens and show that there is more that unites than separates us,” Hoffman said. “However, with all of our different programming and convention schedules, it is very difficult to find weekends that are open for all groups.”

Griff would like to see the NFTY-BBYO unity expand throughout Atlanta and perhaps beyond. He distributed HOTTY’s workshop materials to other chapters in NFTY’s Southern Area Region and is hopeful that other cities will follow Atlanta’s example of NFTY-BBYO collaboration.

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