BBYO IC guests receive Texas hospitality
Photo: Courtesy Schiller family
From left, international BBYO guests Szymon and Maksymilian from Poland with their extended host family: Jared McElhaney, Jennie Hansen, Bradi McElhaney, Tara and Jeff Schiller

By Deb Silverthorn

Home sweet home is what nearly 200 local Jewish community residents provided during Global Ambassadors Week for international guests and participants of the February 2023 BBYO International Convention (IC). Students and staff from 44 countries spent five nights in homes around the Metroplex, some families hosting two guests, some hosting as many as eight.

“This was a very moving experience, and we can’t thank our host families enough. To watch the community come together in so many ways — to provide a beautiful experience and with whatever they heard was needed — was just magical,” said Courtney Fields, NTO BBYO senior regional director.

International participants began arriving in Dallas on Thursday, Feb. 9. They spent that evening and through Shabbat with their host families, some coordinating group Friday night dinners and attending services at congregations throughout the community.

On Saturday night, a Havdalah and Global Launch Dance Party was held at the Brookhaven Country Club. Dallas’ Ariella Weisman (NTO BBYO Sablosky chapter) and Jordan Feldman (NTO BBYO Kaplan), regional board members, were among the evening’s organizers. Later in the week during IC, Feldman was elected to BBYO’s incoming international board.

There were visits to AT&T Cowboys Stadium, to the Fort Worth Stockyards and to Klyde Warren Park, as well as shopping trips and more. Visitors volunteered at numerous locations around the city. On Monday night, Feb. 13, nearly 800 guests and host family members cheered on the Dallas Mavericks as they played the Minnesota Timberwolves. The next day, visitors spent a couple of hours at either Akiba Yavneh Academy or the Greenhill School, learning what a school “day in the life” of their Texas friends was like.

“We had 100 guests from Argentina and Moldova, from Israel, Croatia and … from so many places, and yet they were just teens, Jewish teens, connecting,” said Sara Block, Judaic Studies administrator and teacher at Akiba Yavneh Academy.

She added, “Our students did a country-by-country roll call; we had a concert with Eric Hunker and Happie Hoffman; Yavneh Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Meir Sabo spoke, as did Rav Binny Friedman from Yeshiva Orayta. You couldn’t tell who was from what country — it was just magnificent Jewish pride.

Photo: Jake Stendel
Nearly 800 international BBYO delegates, host family members and other IC 2023 associates took in a Mavs basketball game at the American Airlines Center on Feb. 13, 2023.

“There were small-group icebreakers, there was laughter and song and it was a living definition of ‘Hinei Ma Tov,’ which they sang — indeed ‘behold how good it is.’ And it was,” Block said.

Block’s in-laws, Rivkie and Rabbi Menachem Block of Chabad of Plano, hosted seven young ladies from Austria, Estonia, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania. On Shabbat, they welcomed other host families as well.

Having heard there was need for students who were shomer Shabbat, Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum, BBYO’s director of Jewish enrichment who had spent more than a decade in Dallas — most of that teaching and as leadership of Akiba Yavneh Academy — reached out to the Blocks.

“Rabbi Tannenbaum called, and we were happy to welcome them. We learned so much about each other and realized that while we may be different, we do have similarities too. I could never have imagined how uplifting the week might have gone and the lessons we each learned from one another. Truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Rivkie Block.

Rabbi Block added, “For many of them, it was the first time they spent a Shabbat in such a spiritual experience. We had four host families, maybe 35 people, who joined us at shul with davening, singing and dancing. It was a very special Shabbat for all of us.”

Tara and Jeffrey Schiller brought their guests Szymon and Maksymilian, visiting from Poland, to services at Chabad. While both are from Krakow, the boys hadn’t known each other and yet, Jewish geography was played.

“Szymon had brought us a beautiful book of the Jews of Krakow,” said Jeff. “While looking through it, Maksymilian pointed out his grandfather and it turns out the boys’ grandfathers daven in the same shul — yet they didn’t know one another.

“We had a great time with them,” said Jeff. “Our daughter and (now) son-in-law Bradi and Jared joined us for Shabbat dinner and later during their visit took them shopping to Walmart, bought them some hoodies and spent some good time together. It was really easy to get involved in the spirit of it all.”

The Schillers’ guests made mention that some visitors from Ukraine had talked of the need for phone chargers back home. Jeff contacted his poker group, who in the fall donated $10,000 to a Ukrainian relief fund. They quickly raised $1,000 for chargers. Jeff contacted Rabbi Meir Sabo, rabbi at Tiferet Israel in addition to his role at AYA, who donated from his discretionary fund enough for the total to be more than 60 power blocks.

Word spread among host families and additional batteries, T-shirts, flashlights and more, along with the power blocks, were delivered to the Ukrainian delegation, which, in turn, delivered the gifts to residents in 17 cities of that country at war.

“It was spectacular, such a special experience. I think, while we’ve hosted two other years, this was elevated by a WhatsApp chat with guests and hosts from Celina to Southlake to all parts of Dallas,” said Mona Allen, who hosted three young ladies, from Vienna and Helsinki, with her husband, Artie.

“We collaborated for carpools and get-togethers. It really showed me what our community can do. We are a great community,” Allen added.

On Wednesday morning, the international delegates bid farewell to their hosts and joined the local and other United States participants, first for the Global Leadership Forum and then BBYO’s 99th International Convention, which lasted through Monday,  Feb. 20.

More than 3,200 teens then shared in an experience begun — for those outside the U.S. — with the hosts with the mosts, all wishing shalom y’all.

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