My sister and sibling BBGs, my brother and sibling Alephs,
I'm 17 years old, I’m from a town in North Jersey you’ve never heard of, my chapter is Pascack Valley BBG #1096, and, in the fall, I'll be attending Duke University. I’ve spent the last year on a lot of Zoom calls, Amtraks to Maryland, and sending many text messages to BBYO teens around the world—and their unexpecting grandmas. I said, Game On!, witnessed The Power of Us, and finally discovered the truth that extinguishes with each senior’s final flame: time in our Movement is finite.
Your $149 registration fee—that you may have understood nothing of years ago—has an end date. Regardless of how many times you repeat it, the power of Us will pin its responsibility on the next generation of Alephs and BBGs; Game On will eventually become Game Over. Even holding the title of Mazkirah, Vice President of Communications, I’m unsure of my ability to communicate the impact, memories, and emotions that combined to create my BBG identity. Instead, I’ll start my address from its beginning, introducing myself to those of you I’ve yet to meet, in the way I used to know best.
Nice to meet you, I'm Jessica Fay Ilin.
Throughout my life, I've had many names. To my parents, I was Jessica. To my middle school friends, I was Jessie. Some camp friends called me Juice. Nevertheless, when I typed my legal name into bbyo.org/become-a-member, on October 23rd, 2018, exactly 2 years after my Bat Mitzvah, nothing could foreshadow the lessons I’d soon gain from my future nicknames.
“Submitted with undying love for my BBGs, bubble tea, the C1 VSCO filter, and hitting the woah…”
Yes, that was how I concluded the speech of my first election running for chapter Mazkirah. Although I was humbled—in more ways than 1—and honored to serve, I don’t wish to back my story up so far. Simply put, then, I was just Jess.
“Submitted with undying love for spooey, my BBGs, and sometimes even my Alephs, but mostly spooey.”
I read this line from my bedroom as I ran for chapter N’siah on Zoom—an app I had launched hundreds of times and would soon launch thousands more. Amidst the height of the Pandemic, it was our connection to teens we were familiar with in our own chapters and new ones around the world. It was what grew my passion for our global community as I made friends who faced the same void from the cancellation of in-person programming. Ultimately, those friends gave me jess.icafay, a new Zoom name and newer identity. It was what connected me to people I had known only through my computer screen and some I didn't know at all.
“Submitted with undying love for jess.icafay, the gerber puffs sitting in front of me, silly bandz, the 77th season of BBG and all that is to come, and every single one of you.”
And that was the end of my final election speech—the moment that marked the beginning of serving our Movement in its entirety. The beginning of my end. But while it lasted, you may have seen me snacking on too many pretzel m&ms, wearing my erroneous board sweatshirt—I-L-L-I-N—and reading speedily, accepting my final name: Jill. While its origin is unimportant, in my year as Jill, I've learned about the gears that keep our organization moving, but, more than that, I've learned my most valuable lesson: Names mean nothing on their own. Instead, behind every name, comes a person and a journey.
Hundreds of thousands of names have passed through our Movement, each with their own unique story. Many of us identify with the story of the Aleph or BBG who attended every event, served on leadership boards, and found their greatest days on summer programs. She was me, given a voice and acknowledged by name.
The best friends I’ve made in this Movement, from New Jersey, New York, Florida, Texas, and Maryland, are my absolute favorite. I can never have enough in-person hugs after months on FaceTime. I will never be able to describe just how lucky I have been to grow alongside 97/77, a group of people who inspired me, but, more importantly, made me laugh like no one else. I promise our quote list will soon be published. My counterpart network, every single member of KOMS, showed me exactly what a #MazkirimWin looked like and exceeded every expectation. Each of you is an individual I’m so lucky to have in my life and I truly cannot wait to celebrate you in your next endeavors. You put your hearts into everything you do; I know you’re going to crush it. For each of them, each name, I am forever grateful.
However, not everyone is so lucky. We often forget the story of the Aleph or BBG who paid for membership, attended a chapter meeting, and never returned, lost in the numbers we seek to grow each year and given no name.
As our Order faced its pandemic roadblocks, we sought to recover to our pre-pandemic state, often focusing on numbers, rather than names. We—I—let too many teens slip through the cracks as we failed to acknowledge the magic of what BBYO was to us when we were underclassmen; we forgot what it was like to learn to enjoy the delicacy of spooey and simply be Jess: watch the magic rather than make it. Just as my mentors had given me my nicknames and my identities, I had the ability to give younger members theirs.
So, I guess that’s what I want to communicate to you; it was something I failed to realize for so long. My BBYO journey wasn't just me becoming one of 12 teens who led our Movement through its 97th year. It wasn’t about me and my leadership; it was about continuing the mosaic of those who came before me: the 98 year vision of our Movement’s founders Sam Beber and Anita Perlman—hands right over left—as they looked to the future.
In my moments of struggle, when I found it challenging to push this vision forward, I was motivated by more of my network around me. I looked to my physical home base: Pascack Valley BBG’s members and advisor, Shara Hirsch, the incredible Greater Jersey Hudson River Region, and my mentors, Judi Youngman and Emily Char. I found comfort in the community of International staff that formed around me, especially in sharing TikToks with Andrea Lefton, seeing Alana Ben-Zeev’s BeReal, and obsessing over everything Dara Molotsky posts. The amount I’ve learned from each of you, especially from Ryan and Moe, is immeasurable. But, most of all, it was my co, Andrew Daitch, who always stood by my side pushing me to think for myself, fight for others, and defend my name. I couldn’t have done these past two years without you.
As I reflect on my last four years, I acknowledge that BBYO has taught me many things: talk to underclassmen, our time is now, you get out what you put in, you cannot mute people in person, and, of course, not to take dog medication you are prescribed ever again (unless you’re interested in visiting an emergency room in a foreign country) but, more than that, as I leave this organization, I am excited for its future: To those who have yet to reach the end, our Order is in your hands. You can change that Jewish teen’s story; make them return and please help them find their name.
As I say my final thank you to the Movement that has given me a space, a voice, and my name,
I find it only appropriate to end my International Life on the only quote I know by heart—the one I’ve said a million times to my chapter, region, and our international Order:
“You can change your hair—did that—you can change your clothes—that too—you can change your mind—and your name, many times—that’s just the way it goes, you can say goodbye and you can say hello, but BBYO will always be my home.” —Hannah Montana, sort of…
And with that, respectfully submitted with complete and undying love for pretzel M&Ms, my heart the Greater Jersey Hudson River Region #22, my home Pascack Valley BBG #1096, the 97th Grand Board and 77th International Board, and every single one of you,
I give my life to the International Order of BBG,
For the very last time, as your 77th International Mazkirah, and as a B'nai Brith Girl,
I forever remain,
Jessica Fay Ilin,
A damn proud lifetime member of the International Order of BBG
Jessica Ilin is the 77th International Mazkirah from Greater Jersey Hudson River: Northern
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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