Leadership Labs Kickoff: The Power of Us is Bigger Than Just Us

February 18, 2022
Jason Calderon

Springfield, New Jersey, United States

Class of 2023

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After an awesome Opening Ceremony and night one of IC, Alephs and BBGs from all around the Order were up early to start day two. The BBYO Leads Plenary kicked off a day of programming opportunities for Alephs and BBGs to increase their skills through Leadership Labs as well as IC’s first ever Sports and Wellness Expo. This morning, we were joined by some true gamechangers from all walks of life and fields, from a Rabbi to an NFL player to a new US resident from Afghanistan and many more. 

To kick off the morning, Broadway star Taylor Bryant joined with BBYO favorite song leaders Happie Hoffman and Eric Hunker to blow everyone away with a performance of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman, an anthem for the marginalized. In the movie, the characters find their sense of power and pride in themselves. Using this to kick off a Leads Labs day where teens will find their sense of power and pride in their Jewish identities, and as this is a theme for all BBYO, this was a truly beautiful tribute.

Broadway star Taylor Bryant joined with BBYO favorite song leaders Happie Hoffman and Eric Hunker to blow everyone away with a performance of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman

Following Bryant’s performance, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl made her second appearance of IC, starting her remarks by describing her out of body, electric experience from leading us in song on Night One, that even she, like many of us, barely could sleep from the “buzzing” feeling. She went on to introduce Abdullah Antepli, a professor at Duke University and a fellow on Jewish-Muslim Relations at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He has had to spend time in FBI safe houses, faced criticism and even death threats from his own community, and despite all he has gone through, we were honored to hear him speak at our International Convention in a room with thousands of Jewish teens to explain how truly important our Movement is.

He declared that the Power of Us lies within our use of our community to establish our roots but that the real Power of Us is when our roots are strong enough to form alliances with other communities to establish overarching morals and ethics to form a better tomorrow. That the bonds we build today as one community form the building blocks to branch out and the morals we create here at our International Conventions are the morals of a more equal humanity, a better humanity. That uniting Jews and Muslims together in our generation, throwing our strength and moral courage together at common enemies, the Power of Us will be stronger than it has ever been before. 

Then, in a beautiful display of unity, Rabbi Angela and Antepli joined together, arm in arm, to lead our movement in "Hinei Ma Tov," a prayer for unity among all brother, sister, and sibling Alephs BBGs, and all Jews and Muslims around the world. And united we were, everyone standing on their chairs chanting the prayer right alongside them. This moment I found powerful, because Antepli, a Turkish Muslim, reached across the religious “aisle,” extending a hand to us by chanting our prayers in our language and showing his dedication to uniting our communities.

And united we were, everyone standing on their chairs chanting the prayer right alongside them

Rabbi Angela and Antepli joined together, arm in arm, to lead our movement in "Hinei Ma Tov," a prayer of unity among all siblings

Another moment that I found particularly powerful was when Zach Banner, an African American offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, explained the significance of advocating for communities outside of our own. He explained that he found it hypocritical when he faced backlash from his own community to advocate for other communities following the Tree of Life shooting in 2018. He neither was nor is Jewish. He heard the news of bad people declaring this and that about Jews. He wasn’t even sure if it was socially acceptable to say “Jews” to describe Jewish people because these bad people would describe us with this term and do awful things. But he found the power within himself to become an avid supporter, empathizing with our struggles. By the end of his speech, he exclaimed that as leaders in our communities, we have to be proud that we are Jews, to say it loud and proud. To use the Power of Us to advocate for a better tomorrow, the same plea for BBYO’s leaders to help create a better tomorrow using the roots we have in BBYO that Abdullah Antepli shared with us earlier.

Zach Banner, an African American offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, explained the significance of advocating for communities outside of our own

To see such different perspectives sharing the same message truly shows that the Power of Us is recognized all around the world, and that if we use it for right, then our Movement is unstoppable. That the Power of Us is bigger than any individual Aleph or BBG but at the same time each individual Aleph and BBG builds us up and helps us reach greater heights.

This was just a taste of the inspiration and empowering that Jews all around the world are experiencing at today’s Leadership Labs, and a truly memorable piece of this year’s International Convention.

Jason in an Aleph from Greater Jersey Hudson River Region.

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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