BBYO Austria: A Trying Journey

January 14, 2020

Every BBYO chapter out there should feel like a home, a place where you can explore your Judaism in any and every way possible. A place in which you find friends for life and a support system that won't let you down. At least for me, that perfectly describes a chapter, and if you, fellow readers, can't relate to that, maybe it's time to make a change. As a matter of fact, I know a few people who actually stood up and did that, who saw that a chapter didn't fulfill all of its duties for the teens. One of those people is my sister, Lara Gilkarov. Don't worry, this isn't one of those articles in which I talk about the wonder that is my sister for two pages. However, in this story, she, along with significant others, might actually be one. 

It all started about 2 years ago when two Bulgarian staff members came to Austria and opened a chapter here. I honestly admire them for opening a chapter from nothing. In Austria, no one had ever heard of BBYO. We have a very competitive sense of community here, which resulted in having four Jewish youth organizations. This might not seem like a lot, but considering they have been established in Vienna decades ago, and are located here, in a city where the Jewish community isn’t overly populated, it made all the difference. Seeing as those four youth organizations were the only ones, I guess you could say that “all the spots were filled”. Accordingly, no one dared to establish another organization, fearing failure

Naturally, the two students who came to Austria and opened the chapter were well aware of the situation and what could and would possibly go wrong, but they went ahead and gave it a try anyway. As I’ve previously mentioned, I can’t help but admire their courage, as I, a member of the current BBYO Austria Board, being invested in BBYO’s wellbeing and development, know the struggle with failure and that feeling that makes you want to call the quits. If I were in their situation, I think I even might have…

As expected, BBYO didn’t turn out as well as hoped. Few people had learned what it was and even fewer people actually showed up. Still, it was BBYO and no matter how small they were, nothing changed that fact. Soon after that, the few people who did show up formed some sort of board. One of those very board members was my sister. Slowly but surely, the two students had started to fall into the background of BBYO Austria and were only around when desperately needed. The newly formed board attended IC and obviously had a blast. However, after that iconic convention, the board started to fragilize, few members showed up to meetings, others started to attend fewer meetings. BBYO Austria had started to lose its flair and innate "BBYOness". Who could blame them? Although the majority of the board had left BBYO, three members had still been able to hold up the fort and wanted to finish what those brave two delegates from Bulgaria started. So they formed another board and decided they were in it for the long run. They promised they would dedicate their time and creativity to BBYO in order to plan informative albeit fun programs, for all of the Jewish teens, so that, not one more teen would miss out on a lifetime of meaningful experiences provided by BBYO. 

As promised, they managed to get people to come to events, chapter meetings, conventions and more. Slowly people started hearing about BBYO, and this time they listened. With time we even elected a board, a legitimate one, and we work hard to this day to make sure the teens have the experience they want to have while going through it with their friends. It was a long and rocky road (not referring to the ice cream) but we made it. We managed to recruit more teens than expected and had meetings that couldn't have been more perfect. 

One year ago, I had my first BBYO meeting, where, towards the end, we were asked to write down goals for the year to come. I can honestly say that my goals have been reached and surpassed my expectations. 

If you've been carefully reading until now, you might have noticed a mistake I've made earlier on in this article: I mentioned that there were four Jewish youth organizations in Austria. This is a mistake, as there are actually five now, and it's official. I could not be prouder to be a part of that fifth addition to the group and I truly hope my experiences will live on beyond BBYO and guide me throughout my whole life. Tomorrow surely happens here.

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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