Imagine the Gaylord National Hotel in Washington, D.C., filled to the brim with Jewish teens from across the world, united under a single flag. Some of you may already have imagined this when the annual BBYO International Convention was held in Washington this past February. I went into the hotel with almost no connections from outside Baltimore. I have yet to go on an international summer program (a “breeding ground” of sorts for global connections), but I will say I left with a decent number of new Facebook friends. But what really mattered was the guiding idea propelling the convention: From the roots, we build. I felt a true sense of connection with every single person in attendance, threading back to our shared homeland in Israel.
Now, you may be kvetching at this copy of the Jewish Times in your hands about how all of this was already said in the weeks following the convention in February. But my story blazes onward with my chapter, Gideon AZA #2519, forming a partnership across the pond with Pinner BBYO, a chapter in the United Kingdom. I had several Skype conversations with the president of Pinner, Rob Angel. That partnership led to an amazing connection, which took place this summer in Israel.
In July, I went to Israel on the Baltimore Zionist District’s teen trip. Months after my latest conversation with Rob, our group was staying at a youth hostel in Tel Aviv. There was another group staying in the same hostel. This group happened to be from the United Kingdom. Even more, this group happened to be from BBYO. And can you believe, Rob was among them? Months after my first experience with the international BBYO and Jewish community, I spent several hours talking with someone who would be a stranger under any other circumstances but to me seemed to like an old and close friend in the homeland of the Jewish people.
So, as I trace my way back to my first encounter with a truly global Jewish community, I still bear in mind the idea that each one of us, as a Jew, is rooted in a network of traditions and ideals, in a common bond bringing us together no matter what hardships we face. This February, the International BBYO community will descend upon Dallas for IC 2014. I’ll be there for sure, representing Baltimore from the second I arrive until the second I leave. And by that last second, I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of new global friendships in my pocket (and on my Facebook account).