It’s funny to think I wanted to quit BBYO. If you had told me in September of 2021 that I would be on my regional board, attending IC, serving on the press corps, giving a Ted Talk at IC, leading a LEADS day program, serving as chief policy editor on the climate committee, and starting my own club, I would have laughed in your face. If you told me many of my best friends were from BBYO and my chapter and region were my home, I would scoff and walk away. I had no idea what an Aleph was, much less what the ILN or any of these things were.
I was convinced by a good friend of mine, Ariella Ayenesazan, a BBG from Atlanta, to join BBYO. She had been asking me to join for over a year, when out of “why the heck not” I decided to enroll. Shortly after, I attended Miami Region’s kickoff. We went to a food court-style restaurant. Despite me not knowing anyone, I was excited to go.
I did not enjoy my first kickoff. I remember sitting in the middle of the room alone, eating a plate of food, not having the courage to go up to any of the clearly older boys who had their own friend groups established. A BBG spoke to me, and I was excited to start a conversation, only for her to realize I wasn’t who she thought I was, and walked away. For the next hour I was texting Ariella, saying I should never have listened to her, and that I hated BBYO.
This all changed when an advisor, a guy named Jacobo, sat down next to me. We began to chat. We had a full blown conversation, and I was overjoyed to finally be able to talk to someone. He took me across the room and introduced me to two Alephs on the regional board who he knew well. Turns out these two were members on the regional board, and they made me feel welcome. They talked to me, and brought me to their group, who began also treating me extremely well and talking to me. Another guy my age who was having the same experience as me was also talked to by them. By the end of the night, I was still unhappy, but the last hour or so had been just a bit more tolerable. On the drive home, my mom convinced me to give it a second shot.
Sure enough, I went to my first chapter meeting. I absolutely loved it. Without all of the distractions of kickoff, the boys in my chapter were able to bring me in and treat me like family. I began growing close to each and every one of them, and they became my brothers. Since then, Hurricanes AZA #843 has been my home, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
My own negative experience as a prospect taught me that prospects oftentimes are scared of making the first move or going up to someone, and it is crucial that we all ensure they have a good time whenever they are present. Had it not been for Jacobo and that small group of Alephs, I would have never stayed in BBYO in the first place, and I don’t even want to think of how different my life would be. BBYO has changed my life for the better in ways I could not fit into an article. The thought of all of that not happening because of one bad experience at kickoff makes me reflect, and realize the importance of second chances introspectively as well.
I often jokingly complain when there are a lot of prospects at events, as I want to give my full self to my brother Alephs. My experiences have taught me, however, that a prospect is and should be treated just like an Aleph. We always say “never too many”, and ensuring prospects are motivated to join BBYO is the raw embodiment of that.
I urge you, sit down next to that prospect. Make him feel welcome, and ensure that he understands the power and beauty of AZA, as well as everything it stands for. We are stronger together as one, and being able to welcome prospects with open arms is a great aspect of that. The movement where I met some of my best friends and had some of the best experiences of my life is also a movement that I almost quit. I am committed to making sure that every Aleph and potential Aleph feels included, and I hope my story can motivate you to do so as well, because every AZA and BBG in this entire movement one day started out as a prospect, and you never know if that prospect in the corner will be your new best friend, or even a future leader in BBYO.
Luiz Gandelman is an Aleph from Miami, Florida and is the 99th Grand Aleph Mazkir.
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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