Melbourne teens attend US summer leadership camp

August 8, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Six Jewish teens from Melbourne public schools have recently returned from a three-week-long camp in Pennsylvania, USA where they represented the United Jewish Education Board at the B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation International Leadership Training Conference.

The camp brought together 250 Jewish teens from many different countries. During this trip, the students strengthened their leadership skills, social networks and sense of Jewish identity.

The camp was a mix of training sessions on leadership and organisation, Jewish experiences and social activities. Elya Tal, aged 16, said that the camp was “amazing … I loved the activities and the programs … like how they make Judaism meaningful to you.” She really enjoyed the “elective” classes, such as Israel programming and holiday cooking, as well as the friendly and open social environment.

Chloe Guss, aged 17, felt that the final Havdalah ceremony was one of the highlights of her trip.  “We all got together and stood in a swirl around this big tree … It had fairy lights covering it and we all had our arms around each other and we were singing all of these meaningful songs … it just felt like home.”

These students, who attend Glen Eira and Brighton Secondary Colleges, come from a range of backgrounds in terms of Jewish observance and connection to the community. Inclusiveness is central to UJEB and BBYO so that teens from different backgrounds can feel comfortable in the group.

Adam Levin, aged 17, is implementing inclusivity in practice. Since returning from ILTC, he is making sure that BBYO Melbourne events do not run on Shabbat, and that all levels of kashrut are catered for. Adam moved to Melbourne just over a year ago from South Africa and describes himself as traditional. In South Africa, he attended a private Jewish school, so the experience of being in a non-Jewish school is still new to him. He is maintaining his sense of identity and Jewish life but feels that becoming a BBYO leader is an important part of building his connection to the community.

UJEB and B’nai B’rith Victoria are working together to revive BBYO in Melbourne. Formerly known as AZA, this group has not operated in Melbourne for over 20 years. BBYO International is flourishing, however, and the Melbourne chapter will connect the community’s youth to a vibrant network of 80,000 Jewish teens in 46 countries. BBYO is peer-led, so developing the leadership skills of members is crucial to its success. The ILTC trip builds on an earlier expedition to Denver in February 2019, facilitated by UJEB, in which 5 Melbourne teens attended the annual BBYO International Convention.

Dr Benny Monheit, President of B’nai B’rith Victoria, congratulated UJEB on their youth initiative. “B’nai B’rith is very happy to support BBYO in strengthening the connection between our young Jewish students and the rest of the community” he said.

So far in 2019, BBYO Melbourne has run three events: a Bounce trampolining session, a Shavuot cheesecake-making class and a Krav Maga (Israeli self-defence) event. The number of attendees has doubled since the first event. With their new planning and organisational skills, the group is now working on a calendar of events for the rest of the year and beyond, as well as finding ways to publicise its activities.

Noah Loven, aged 17, learnt a lot about being a leader at ILTC: “I learnt that a leader comes in all shapes and sizes. A leader does not need to conform to one … idea or ideology, a leader can be anyone.”

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