By Michael Sudhalter
For a few years, Jewish teenagers in Tarrant County would have to travel to Dallas to participate in BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) events.
In 2021, the Ralph Berets BBYO Chapter #5121 started in Southlake and has grown to 18 members. The coed chapter expects to add more members in 2023-2024. The upcoming year is fortuitous because it’s the national BBYO’s centennial year.
“I have, and continue, to love every second of being part of this chapter and helping to create it into what it has become today,” said Lillian “Lily” Cohen, 17, n’siah (president). “I’ve formed lifelong friendships and helped foster a place where the Jewish teens of our community can feel represented and understood.”
The Ralph Berets Chapter is part of the North Texas Oklahoma (NTO) Region. They have a partnership with Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Colleyville, which provides the chapter with funding and location support.
Prior to the Berets chapter, BBYO had two longtime chapters in Tarrant County — Rubin Gilbert AZA and Alton Silver BBG — but neither had been active since 2018.
It’s customary for BBYO chapters to be named in honor of prominent Jewish individuals. Ralph Berets (1939-2022) was a Holocaust survivor and English professor who passed away at age 82 in the Kansas City area last year.
Courtney Fields, BBYO community director for the NTO Region, said Jewish teenagers in Tarrant County approached her with the idea of starting a new chapter.
“They expressed that this was a growing community, and it is important for them to see Jewish life, specifically in that area,” Fields said. “They also appreciated BBYO’s teen lead values and wanted to help teens in the community develop as Jewish leaders.”
One of those leaders is Micah Davidson, 17, chapter s’gan (vice president, programming).
“Becoming part of BBYO has definitely been one of the highlights of my high school years,” Davidson said. “Not have only have I had the chance to get to interact and develop close bonds with Jewish teens in my area, but being a Berets has really prepared me to be a Jewish leader. Thanks to being in BBYO, I have learned how to organize religious services, foster a Jewish identity among teens and how to fundraise.”
Founding member Logan Hamilton, 18, is the moreh (vice president, membership) and said being part of BBYO has helped him to grow in his Jewish identity.
“I have always been interested in my connection to Judaism, but I never found a real community of Jews in my area,” Hamilton said. “I had to travel to Dallas to have a community, but when I met founding members Ali and Bekah Scileppi, I saw that I could create one in my area. With their help and [that of] Lily Cohen, we were able to start the chapter [here].”
The chapter has two volunteer advisors, Amy Hamilton and Caryn Watsky-Scileppi. The members determine the activities for the year.
Some of their 2023-2024 activities include Rosh Hashanah services at CBI, a Haunted House Experience, Escape Room, Interfaith Farm Shabbat and a latke-making Hanukkah event. They’ll also attend two regional conventions where they’ll meet Jewish teens from Dallas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.