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Jewish youth group expands its reach
Jewish youth group expands its reach
By SUE HOFFMAN
The mother of three grown children, Judy Kaufman, of Orange Village, recalled her teenage experience in B'nai Brith Youth Organization.
"It was the summer before I was going into ninth grade, and I was asked by a friend if I wanted to join her chapter," said Mrs. Kaufman, who grew up in Shaker Heights. "I was hooked from the minute I began. I loved having about 35 brand new friends in ninth to 12th grade from all different school systems and parts of the city."
She eventually became president of her chapter and, as an adult, served as an adviser and on the international board. "It was a wonderful way to connect with my Jewishness. It was an experience that stayed with me my entire life. It shaped who I am," Mrs. Kaufman said.
Her husband, David, was BBYO council president in the Cleveland area. While Mrs. Kaufman met him at school, she said, "BBYO brought us closer together."
Mrs. Kaufman currently is volunteering to head a Friends of BBYO chapter of the Jewish teen youth group.
Around the globe, B'nai Brith Youth Organization boasts more than 18,000 members and 250,000 alumni.
"As the word is spreading, we're able to expand our database. There are more supporters coming on board every day who want to be included in our programs. The speed at which it is catching on is remarkable." Mrs. Kaufman said the friends group includes alumni, parents of current members and other supporters.
The group's fall event is a bowling night starting at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at Solon Freeway Lanes. In addition to several reserved lanes for bowling, the event features appetizers and dessert. There is also a cash bar, and those who don't want to miss the Ohio State vs. Penn State football game can watch it on television.
"Our goals are to reconnect and help BBYO," Mrs. Kaufman said. "We had a kickoff at Corky and Lenny's in the spring and had 75 people show up. We invite all of our alumni, parents and supporters to join us on bowling night."
Bowling night will bring back memories for many of the alumni, she said. "We used to have a bowling league. It's a nice tie-in."
Aside from planning events, Mrs. Kaufman said the friends "are looking to expand our role as mentors and supporters." She said they are helping the teens find locations for their high school senior projects and helping those who want to return to the area after college with the job search.
B'nai Brith Youth Organization started in 1923, when a group of Jewish boys in Omaha, Neb., organized a fraternity and named it Aleph Zadik Aleph, using Hebrew letters as a protest against Greek societies, many of which excluded Jews. In 1925, Aleph Zadik Aleph was adopted by B'nai Brith as its official youth program. B'nai Brith Girls was officially formed in 1944, although chapters were established as early as the mid-1920s. The B'nai Brith Youth Organization has evolved into an independent trans-denominational Jewish youth movement promoting teen leadership, community service and a connection with Israel and Jews worldwide.
Mrs. Kaufman, former president of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike for over five years, started the friends group for the Ohio Northern region a few years ago. "Cleveland was one of the first cities to have an alumni group," she said. "The idea has really taken off. BBYO now has a staff in Washington that works with all the regions."
The Ohio Northern region consists of chapters in Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Toledo and Youngstown, she said. "There are 4,600 alumni living in the Ohio Northern region and 1,300 kids are BBYO members."
The region is strengthening, said Todd Kay, senior program director. "Membership has gone up," he said, and it's "one of the top five regions in involvement across the country. That's why the alumni group is so strong."
The friends group is serving as a national pilot, he said. "They're looking to Cleveland to set the stage and show the rest of the country how to attract and retain the alumni."
Praise for the friends group also came from Lane Schlessel, a Lyndhurst councilman and the youth group's national director of travel programs. "It's the initiative we've been waiting for," as a way to connect all of the alumni, parents and supporters, he said.
Mrs. Kaufman said the friends also are planning a spring gala on April 25. "AZA will be 85 years old, and BBG will be 65 years old. We'll celebrate and mark the occasion," she said.
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