By Abigail Knopf and Jake Pappas
BBYO Connecticut Valley Region
In late January, close to 400 BBYO teens and staff gathered in Hartford for the annual Winter Kallah Convention. This year’s theme was “Free to be you and me. A celebration of diversity in the Jewish Community.” Nohar Se-gal, BBG Regional president shared that, “To teens, free to be you and me is about diversity, inclusion and loving who you are. To our parents, it’s a throw back to the movement in the 70’s for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls.”
Over 500 teens, BBYO staff, parents and community members attended Shabbat services. Following services, were speaker sessions under the umbrella of “Diversity Within the Jewish Community.” Aaron Cooper, the Inter-national Grand Aleph Godol of the order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph led a session about the current faces of Judaism. Aaron is a bi-racial Jewish teen and shared his thoughts about growing up black and Jewish. Pam Schuller, who is a stand up comedian, led a session about disabilities and loving each other’s differences. Emily Wyner, who is a past regional president for BBYO Connecticut Valley Region, led a session about having difficult conversations including topics such as race, religion and politics. The last session was led by Dawn Ennis, an award-winning journalist and the first transgender person to come out in a net-work T.V. newsroom. She shared her story and answered questions about her life. At the end of Dawn’s session, the BBG girls in the room surprised her and inducted her into the BBG Sorority.
The evening’s Stomp it Out event aimed to dispel the stigma of mental health issues. Joining BBYO that evening was event partner Hanefesh USY. Organizations representing mental health set up booths and hosted activities where teens could learn more about issues, support and services. Camp Laurel-wood, UConn Hillel and AEPi Fraternity also attended. “Saturday night was nothing I’ve ever seen before in Connecticut,” said Nohar Segal. “It was wall to wall Jewish teens, some were dancing, some were learning about mental health issues, some were talking to AEPi about college and some were inquiring about summer jobs at Camp Laurelwood.”