Returning 63 Years Later: An IC Reflection from BBYO’s 17th International N’siah

March 7, 2024
Marcia Goren Weser

Houston, Texas, United States

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When I was first called about celebrating the 100th anniversary of AZA and the 80th anniversary of BBG, I felt blessed to be alive at this auspicious time. B’nai B’rith Girls had been a crucial part of my life as a teenager. From one of the founders of a new chapter, Joe Reichman BBG in Houston, Texas in 1957 to becoming the 17th International President in 1961, I had participated in life-altering events which influenced my personal, professional and communal accomplishments throughout my life.

As a participant at the IC in Orlando and an observer of the teens now leading our Order, I can say that our world is in safe hands. These 3,700 young men and women from 46 countries with 480 BBYO communities (and a total of 35,000 young people) across the globe are knowledgeable Jews, enthusiastic community workers, and empathetic human beings. 400 alumni came too, including last year’s GAG, Levi Fox, from my hometown! I shared a lunch with him and his parents, learning that he had taken a “gap year” to fulfill his obligations to AZA. I noticed that he was literally held in awe by those who stopped to speak with him. In the fall of 1961 when I became N'siah, I was enrolled in Plan II, the honors program in the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin. It was school PLUS the presidency for both me and GAG Shelly Zimmerman of Toronto, who later went to rabbinical school.

On Friday night and Saturday, with a choice of some 20 service styles to attend, most were presented by BBYOers and Onegs, followed by various interests such as LGBTQ+, Spanish speakers, board games and cards, Jews of color, belly dancing and almost anything you could think of! There were over 300 speakers: comedian Tiffany Haddish; West Wing actor Joshua Malina, Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple, Rabbi David Wolfe, and ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who spoke about the rise of antisemitism since October 7 – his report was very sobering to hear.

Fifty Israeli teens, some from the Druze community, some from Kibbutz Magen (attacked on October 7), and Din Tesler, Nova Music Fest survivor, were there. When they took the stage to lead us in singing Hatikva, I had tears in my eyes. I realized that these young people would soon begin their military service at home. How different would their near future be?

Daniel Mezistrano of Evergreen Region was elected the 100th Grand Aleph Godol, and for the first time, the 80th Anita Perlman International N’siah was elected from outside North America: Joelle Abaew of BBYO ZWST Germany. They take office later this summer. Attending IC was the family of Anita Perlman, whom I had worked with at Camp in Starlight, Pennsylvania, at Leadership Training Conferences and conventions in the early '60s. My reminiscences with her son and his wife, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter were a highlight of my IC visit.

With all the digital displays around the cavernous hotel, information about BBYO's history and its many opportunities for personal growth were everywhere. We are definitely in a different, that is, electronic era. How wonderful to be able to share so much, almost instantaneously. With apps and websites, emails and texts, anything seemed possible!

Yet my opportunity to speak to the Lonestar delegation about BBYO, as I experienced it over 60 years ago, brought everything back to me. It wasn’t Texoma and Cotton States Regions in District 7 - that doesn’t exist today. But a new chapter, Malev BBG, is now flourishing in Houston, where I grew up. It is named for my beloved Rabbi William Malev, who always encouraged me in all things Jewish, including becoming the 2nd Bat Mitzvah (after his daughter’s first, three years earlier) in our conservative congregation. What a blessing. I was brought full circle. I was home again.

May every future International Convention bring even more alumni to share in this joy. All alumni should join the newly-formed alumni organization to ensure the strength of the next 100 years!

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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