BBYO and the International N'siah: Then Vs. Now

February 8, 2019
Maya Elden

Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

Class of 2020

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Ever wondered what it’s like to be the International N'siah, or what BBYO was like twenty years ago? What about the International N'siah from twenty years ago? Keep reading to find out.

Noga is currently serving as BBYO’s 74th International N'siah (2018-2019), and Jen Rosen served as BBYO’s 56th International N'siah (2000-2001). Noga is from Central Region West and is attending Columbia University after her term, and Jen Rosen is from Northern Region East: Northern Virginia Council, and attended Indiana University. Both of them took a year off after high school to serve. Below is an interview I conducted separately with Jen and Noga, where I had the privilege to learn all about their time in BBYO and what it’s like to serve as BBYO’s International N'siah: Then vs. Now.


What is your name?

Noga Hurwitz

Jen Rosen (maiden name is Kraus)

What region are you from?

Noga is from Central Region West.

Jen Rosen is from Northern Region East: Northern Virginia Council.

What year were you N'siah?

Noga is currently serving as BBYO’s 74th international N'siah (2018-2019), and Jen Rosen served as BBYO’s 56th international N'siah (2000-2001).

What were your primary responsibilities as N'siah?

Noga divides her responsibilities into two parts:

1. “Ensure that the movement is functioning at its fullest capacity given all of the structures we already have from leadership network, the travel opportunities and so forth so that our movement can continue to excel… In the future the movement is set up for success, be that in membership, be that in pragmatic excellence, be that through initiative.”

2. “It’s all dependent on ensuring that our chapters are thriving, because they’re what builds the movement… I work with and manage the international board, and ensuring they can support their council, regional, and national counterparts to set up their chapter counterparts for success. It’s through the visits that I make. I’m almost always on the road… meeting with local leaders and community leaders… It’s all rooted in making sure BBYO is everything that it can be and ensuring that BBYO will be everything that it can be in the future.”

Jen defines her duty as the “head of the B’nai Brith Girls”, a position where she “took a year off before going to college” and “was responsible for N’siot in all of the regions and councils across the United States and overseas.” Like Noga, Jen spent her time travelling all over (the United States), meeting with members and giving them “extra motivations to make their regions and chapters excellent.”

Who or what inspired you to run?

Noga ran for N'siah because she wanted to make a difference in the world after learning about all the injustice that occurs within it. She says “I joined BBYO in the beginning of 8th grade. I joined not because of the Judaism… not because of the leadership opportunities… not because of the community… I joined because I was looking for a place where I could make a difference in the world… It was a place from where I could make change in the world through the incredible community, through the massive leadership opportunity… I really believe this organization provides teens with a platform to make a difference in the world. Youths are the right people to [change the world]... To me, running for International N'siah was a way for me to share my platform with so many more people and to refocus what we do around making our community and world a better place. At the end of the day, that’s what our religion teaches us to do and that’s what we teach one another to do.”

Jen got the opportunity to meet the BBG who was International N'siah around 3 or 4 years before Jen was. She came to her region, and gave Jen the confidence she needed to accomplish new heights for the council. “She really inspired me. For her to tell me that she had confidence in me, to encourage me to follow my own leadership path… I think so much of what I’ve learned in my professional career is it’s so important to sort of metaphorically tap people on the shoulder and tell them there’s someone you believe in, and help them to develop their path. She did that for me and she got me to run to pursue excellence in Northern Virginia and then got me to run for International Aym Ha'Chaverot, which I was for a year before I was N'siah.” Because the organization had an uncertain future at the time, Jen describes that there wasn’t really a person who wanted to take on the responsibilities of N'siah. It was her board at the time that encouraged her to run, and said “you are the person to lead this next stage of the movement.” She wasn’t planning on running, but the fact that Jen’s board turned to her with an opportunity that only she could fill is what really inspired her.

What was the running process like?

Noga describes her election process as follows:

1. Filled out her intention to run and had her parents sign it.

2. Had to write a paragraph about why she wanted to run.

3. Completed a self-evaluation reflection consisting of around 18 different questions.

4. Perspective call with her predecessor, Rebecca, where Noga asked information about the position and general questions

5. A more in-depth call, but Rebecca asked Noga questions, such as about the “vision she had made” in her self-evaluation

6. Noga’s regional director had to submit a staff recommendation

7. Noga and her parents set up a phone call with the International advisor going over the responsibilities of board and what Noga’s life would become, because “[Being] N'siah is such a unique and different way to do BBYO for a year.”

8. Priority papers and vision statement. This was the first piece of legislation shared with the public.

9. Made a video, platform, and speech.

10. Ran at IC and won!

Both Noga and Jen ran unopposed for N'siah. Jen had to create platforms, meet the candidates, and go through a similar process to Noga. Today’s international election process very closely resembles what the candidates had to go through back then.

What made you qualified for the position?

Noga’s very first position was her chapter’s Big/Little chair. She then served for multiple six-month terms as chapter Shlicha, Morah, S’ganit, and N'siah. Afterwards, she won council Shlicha for the year, and she was elected as International Shlicha the year after. Additionally, she coordinated JEI: Stand UP pre-summit track for IC 2016, and served as a Shabbat and Rituals Administrative Assistant for IC 2017. She also “hosted local leadership opportunities in CRW” and attended Ambassadors to Uruguay. Noga also says “I really believe that what makes someone most qualified to run is passion and commitment to improving and upholding the values of our organization, and I felt at the time that I declared and submitted my candidacy  that felt true to me and how I felt about BBYO.”

Jen’s year as Aym Ha'Chaverot and her interactions with other people gave her a great sense of what BBYO was like globally. She also believes her passion was to take “what was a very challenging situation and try to persevere and ensure that the organization would have a bright future,” meaning she felt it was ultimately up to her to help save BBYO. Both Noga and Jen believe that aside from “written qualifications,” passion is essential to the position.

How often did you communicate with your co, the Grand Aleph Godol?

Noga exclaims “All the time!” She explains that although they have formal calls once a week, it always ends very friendly and casual. “We’re never not texting and because there is no one in the world who understands what it means to serve this position at this moment other than Mason. Just by nature of our work we’ve become incredibly close friends as well as colleagues.”

“You won’t believe this, but this is the first time I had a cellphone. Cell phones were not common then, so my ‘N'siah phone’ was my first cellphone I ever got.” Texting “was not a thing” back then, so Jen and her co communicated by phone call about 3 or 4 times a week. He is still a very close friend of Jen’s and signed the ketubah at her wedding.

Both Noga and Jen worked incredibly closely with their cos, and developed a strong friendship outside of their responsibilities that both of their positions brought to them.

Describe your favorite memories as N'siah or during your time in BBYO in general.

Noga says “Both locally and internationally, I’ve made some of my very best friends that I know will be friends for life… for some reason, maybe it’s the sisterhood, and maybe it’s the Jewish community, and maybe it’s something about BBYO… I will always treasure the relationships that I will made during my time here… I’ve met people that have become mentors of sorts, people who I mentee, and that intergenerational companionship is really unique and really valuable.” Noga’s favorite memories are comprised of the people she has met and relationships she has formed. However, Jen’s are of her time at CLTC and truly finding herself there.

Jen explains “My favorite memory was finding my voice for the first time, and that was at CLTC.” Despite Jen going to CLTC “feeling like it was something [her] parents made [her] do”, Jen describes how she felt like a totally different person when she left CLTC. She felt like she found her place, and was able to exude confidence and become the outgoing individual she was meant to be. Both she and her parents remember the transformation of Jen coming out of her shell.

What were some challenging moments you faced? Did you ever feel overwhelmed?

“There have been moments where it feels like the entire world is falling apart, or something just really isn't going my way.” Noga explains that although these times seem the hardest, they are the moments she has learned the most from. Everything she has learned from them has made her a “better leader and a better person.” She then tells a story about how just a few weeks ago, she and Mason had just gotten off a plane in Warsaw. They kept trying to call their ride service but they kept cancelling. They decided to take a taxi instead. When they tried going outside people at the airport kept yelling at them to go back inside. But why? “Basically there as a bomb threat in the airport… They just kept everyone quarantined in the airport for 2 hours. I’m happy that they did everything to ensure that everyone would be safe, but if there’s a bomb threat in a building, don’t keep people in a building… but there was no bomb... so it ended up well.”

Jen realized as a working professional in the Jewish world, especially around philanthropy and fundraising, it was the difficult but meaningful experiences that led her on the path to where she is today. “I think my least favorite [part] was navigating being N'siah at a time when the structure to support the International Board wasn’t in place. The future of the organization was unknown and the threat of closing down offices was very real. Both with the passing of our advisor that we worked closely with unexpectedly and not having any international infrastructure was really hard. There were a lot of tears and a lot of emotion. I just felt very alone at times.”

What do you think is the most influential thing you did as N'siah?

Noga says, “I still have so much of the year ahead of me so the best is yet to come. I think one of the most important priorities I had entering this year was creating a better infrastructure for the management of the international board… having served on board last year I felt like I had a really unique insight to ways that would improve certain processes… One of the things I’m really proud of that we’ve changed this year is ensuring that the board functions in a more efficient way.”

Jen says the most influential thing she did (she emphasizes she played a very small role in it because there were so many people involved) was helping to ensure “BBYO could become its own independent organization with its own vision for the future.” She spoke with much gratitude about the role Lynn Schusterman and the Schusterman Foundation played in ensuring a bright and vibrant future for the organization and their belief in the teens.

Do you personally feel like you did a good job as N'siah? Do you have any regrets?

Because Noga’s term has not ended yet, she hopes the best is yet to come.

Jen says the following as she reflects back to her time as N'siah: “I look back on it very positively, but I think there were some times that I would have kept my composure a little bit more.” Jen says that, as a leader, she “didn’t always show up as the resilient” person that she would have liked to have shown as, especially in containing her emotions toward the uncertainty of the organization’s fate.

Where was IC held the year you ran? How many teens attended?

When Noga ran for International N'siah, IC was held in February in Orlando 2018, and around 5,300 teens attended.

When Jen was N'siah, IC was held at Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania, and around 300-400 attended. First was Kallah, then ILTC, and IC was a week-long program afterwards in August. People would either stay through Kallah/ILTC or come afterwards.

IC attendance in 2018 had approximately eighteen times more teens than it did in 2000!

Who were some speakers or performers the year that you were N'siah? Describe interesting programs or activities that were offered to teens.

Noga discusses how her favorite activity was on Saturday night, where all attendees were able to go to Universal Studios. They had many very interesting speakers such as Aly Raisman (World Champion gymnast and bestselling author) and Jason Kander (president of Let America Vote, CNN & Crooked Media Contributor, and Missouri’s 39th Secretary of State).

When Jen was N'siah, at IC they brought in speakers and singers but they were known on a much smaller scale. Jen says she remembers opening ceremonies were “a really special time when people felt a huge sense of pride for the local community in which they were a part of, and just the vibrancy of people’s energy really shining through; I think that was really fantastic.”

Both IC 2000 and IC 2018 brought in speakers, singers, and special guests, and also had fun activities planned for teens.

Did you go on any summer programs during your time in BBYO? If so, which ones and where were they held?

Noga attended CLTC, ILTC, Kallah, ILSI, and coordinated Kallah 2018.

Jen went to CLTC 2 in 1997 at Beber Camp in Wisconsin. The following summer she attended Kallah at Perlman camp, and the next summer she attended ILSI in Israel. Additionally, she coordinated three CLTCs at Beber (1, 2, and 3) in the summer of 2000.

Questions only asked to Jen:

Do you still have any of your BBYO swag?
Jen has a few pieces which she is saving for her daughters, such as pins, her International N'siah sweatshirt, her CLTC t-shirts from which she coordinated. She also has a “BBG box” she is saving as well.

Do you have children, and if so are they in BBYO?

Jen has two daughters, five and three, and a third child on the way. Jen tells a story about how she was taking her daughter to preschool at the JCC where BBYO is held in her community. Her daughter saw a plethora of BBYO teens getting on a bus, preparing to depart for a convention. Her daughter asks, “What are all those kids doing? Why are they getting on the bus?” Jen responded, “Well, let me tell you about it!” She said she went  “on and on, but [my daughter] lost interest in about thirty seconds, but I was SO excited to tell her!” Jen also has a sister who is about ten years younger than her and also got to experience BBYO, which was very exciting for Jen because she got to “live vicariously” through her.

Was there anything you learned as N'siah that you still use in your daily life today?

Jen describes the myriad of sacrifices she had to give up. She had to give up cheerleading, her senior prom, her last two weeks of high school, and more to serve as N'siah. She also had to fly back to her hometown in the middle of coordinating CLTC for her graduation. “Making a sacrifice is important as long as you’re following your passion.” Jen says as she looks back, she does not regret missing those things because she learned the importance of making sacrifices for things she truly cares about at an early age. She also learned about the unity of the Jewish people and the importance of finding shared priorities and vision whenever possible is extremely meaningful as opposed to dividing ourselves up into different categories because “together we thrive as a people, and when we divide ourselves up, that’s when our community is challenged.”

I was so honored to be able to interview both of these incredible women. It was so amazing to hear about their time as the International N'siah of the B’nai Brith Girls. Both had very interesting stories, and it was fascinating to hear the similarities and differences they faced with a position they both held twenty years apart from each other. There are hundreds of chapters in North America and in over 42 countries around the globe. Including partnerships and international communities BBYO reaches nearly 82,000 people, and IC is the largest gathering of Jewish teen leaders worldwide. From nearly 15,000 in 2001 to 20,455 teens in North America alone in 2019, I’m so grateful that BBYO is where it was today and it’s truly amazing to learn about how this organization that was once on the brink of failure is where it is today.

Maya Elden is a BBG from Ohavim BBG #418 in Eastern Region: North Carolina Council, has played piano for 12 years, and works at a car wash.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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