Dallas Jewish youth groups stay in touch virtually
Photo: Courtesy Yael Schuller
Yael Schuller, a junior at Yavneh Academy, North Texas Oklahoma Region #74 n’siah/president and member of the Sally Blum chapter, participated in her chapter’s fine-dining night via Zoom.

The screen scene

By Deb Silverthorn
North Texas Jewish teens in BBYO, Jewish Student Union (JSU) and National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) and United Synagogue Youth (USY) are keeping community connections alive during times of social distance.
Missing out on school may have at first seemed like an extended vacation, but teenagers used to socializing, Jewish learning, celebrating and connecting for a Jewish purpose have now moved online for the foreseeable future.
Dallas hosted BBYO’s International Convention in February, just weeks before travel shutdowns around the world, but since then, all activities have been online.
BBYO On Demand provides thousands of programs weekly. Some are chapter or regionally oriented and many are open to the public of all ages. Plano’s Ethan Fine, a member of Louis Brandeis chapter, was on a panel interviewing Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Sam Starr, a member of Eamonn Lacey and also JSU, interviewed Mark Cuban; and on June 10, Morton Lewis member Gabby Bardov will interview TJ Cline (see sidebar).
“I miss being in person and I miss hugging my friends but being online for BBYO is a nice break from screen time now mostly dedicated to school,” said Yael Schuller, the North Texas Oklahoma Region #74 n’siah/president and member of Dallas’ Sally Blum chapter. “While we’ve lost some of the spontaneity of just getting together, the good thing is that we aren’t held to Saturday night or Sundays.”
Jason Bodzy, NTO Region s’gan/vice president and member of Dallas’ Rubin Kaplan chapter, said: “The strength of our region can be seen in how its leadership has continued. Working together is part of our daily life and, while it takes a little more to make it work this way, the programs are going ahead full throttle.”
SWUSY, which includes members of Conservative congregations Ahavath Sholom, Anshai Torah, Beth Torah, Shearith Israel, as well as those from El Paso, Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, moved its four-day Staycation Convention online the first weekend in May. “Schacharit Live” with instruments across the ZIP codes, elections, Shabbat services, a Havdallah dance party and more, bring a bit of the familiar to their lives.
“We’ve brought what we do, as much as possible, online. It’s not perfect but it allows us to connect,” said SWUSY Religion Education Culture Vice President Devorah Zhrebker. “Regional leaders from around the country are working together and we’ve had almost weekly programming since Passover.”
JSU and NCSY held a 5K run in which participants ran by themselves in their neighbhorhoods. Students are making masks, working themselves through an online escape room, participating in Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdallah services all on Zoom. They “participated” in an Israeli parade, cook together and have created game shows to stay entertained and connected.
“With local programming, it’s up to the students and I to be creative and, while we do well, we now get to pull from resources around the country, around the world. Artist Romero Britto talked the kids through an art night where they learned and then created,” said Rabbi Michel Lomner, city director of Dallas’ JSU and NCSY. “When the going gets tough, and there’ve been some very tough days, it’s important to be there and to be a shoulder for each other.”

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