By Jen Kruzansky, Mayah Sachs and Brandon Goodman of BBYO
Over the weekend of Jan. 26-28, close to 400 Jewish teens and staff from BBYO of the Connecticut Valley and New England Regions gathered in Hartford for the annual Winter Kallah. Inspired by this year’s Kallah theme, “Being Jewish in America,” the teens spent the weekend exploring their Jewish identities and listening to several guest speakers.
On Saturday morning, the teens were joined by more than 150 parents and community members for Shabbat services. The BBYO teens were honored to receive a Torah donated by Congregation Beth El in New London. The Torah was a gift to Beth El from Myron and Rita Hendel in memory of Myron’s parents. It will be read at BBYO conventions as well as BBYO b’nai mitzvah services. Shabbat services were further enhanced by the performance of the renowned Jewish a capella group Six13, as well as a most meaningful memorial service to remember a BBYO member who passed away two years ago, and the young victims of the Sandy Hill shooting.
“One of our chapters is named in memory of Noah Pozner, one of the children who was taken that horrible day,” said Shani Katz, BBYO Connecticut Valley Region teen president. “When the chapter was renamed, we promised Noah’s family we would always remember him. This is our way of honoring that promise.”
During services, BBYO International Teen President Ron Hason, BBYO Connecticut Valley Region President Ness Low, and BBYO New England Region President Mason Quintero inducted Connecticut philanthropist Henry Zachs into the International Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, in recognition of his strong support of BBYO and the entire Jewish community.
At the conclusion of services, Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke to those in attendance about the importance of being guided by Jewish values both in our day-to-day lives and in our politics.
Following lunch, Israel Deputy Consul General Matan Zamir reported on the Jewish state’s incredible advances in technology and innovation. “Do not think of Israel as a nation of conflict but rather one of innovation,” said Zamir.
A slew of afternoon break-out sessions included a talk by JFACT Executive Director Michael Bloom, who discussed some of the upcoming legislation and stances being taken by the state’s Jewish Federations; and a talk on Jewish campus life by a panel made up of Hillel staff from Yale, UConn and the University of Hartford, and representatives from the Jewish fraternity AEPi and the advocacy group, Stand With Us.
In recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, teens heard survivor Trudy Album discuss her Holocaust experience.
An additional 150 guests from The Emanuel Synagogue and Solomon Schechter Day School in West Hartford, and Camp Laurelwood in Madison joined BBYO for “Havdallah and Hockey.” Co-sponsored by BBYO partner Camp Laurelwood, the evening included a musical Havdalah service followed by a concert by Six13 and a Wolf Pack game.
At the close of the weekend, Ness Low reflected on his Winter Kallah experience. “Where else can you find this?” he wondered. “My mind is still blown by what took place here. From the speakers and performers, to the spirit and community partners, I’m just so grateful to have this opportunity.”
For more information about BBYO, contact Tyler at Tpepe@bbyo.org or Jen at JKruzansky@bbyo.org.
CAP: At the BBYO Winter Kallah: (l to r) Area Director of Community Impact Josh Cohen; Henry Zachs, International Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph inductee; Associate Regional Director BBYO Connecticut Valley Region Jennifer Kruzansky; Senator Richard Blumenthal; Regional Director BBYO Connecticut Valley Region Tyler Pepe. Photo credits: Kayla Weiss and Rachel Zeller.