At the start of 8th grade, I was a shy middle schooler in Livingston, New Jersey. Bar mitzvah season had just started wrapping up and high school was on the horizon. I mostly felt comfortable in the bubble I had created that year, only keeping a pretty small circle of my closest camp friends and school friends that I talked with regularly. And although I was fairly connected to my Jewish identity, going to a mostly-Jewish public school in the suburbs of New York City, and having just had my bar mitzvah in Israel, something still felt missing: the bridge between middle and high school. Something to really tie me down as a Jew.
So when my good friend approached me in the middle of that year talking about something called “BBYO,” the idea of it just sat right with me. Despite being reluctant at first, I started attending more and more events and conventions. I ended up branching out to other Jewish kids in New Jersey and was excited that I’d also have the opportunity to link with my friends in Westchester and Connecticut. Little did I know how important BBYO would become for me just a few short years later.
Fast forward to August 2018, when I had just found out I was moving to San Diego, California. The concept of moving didn’t seem real to me at the time—were my parents joking? San Diego? It was a city that I knew nothing about, in a state that I had only been to once before. Moving away from everything I ever knew was an extremely scary thought, especially as I was in the process of preparing for freshman year at Livingston High School. I felt like I wasn’t only betraying my identity, but also betraying my friends, and I felt absolutely terrible for it.
Saying goodbye to my friends on the East Coast, including the ones that I had made through BBYO, was extremely hard. Every day, I struggled with the fact that I would be moving to a city that had practically no meaning to me at the time. It was crazy and unexpected, but my parents insisted that they kept my interests to heart and wouldn’t have decided on the move if they didn’t. So when we finally moved into our new house in Carmel Valley, San Diego, just a week before I started my freshman year at private school, I was constantly in denial that I was truly here.
That brings us to August 2019, after a rough year I’d spent at Jewish day school, still mad at my parents for moving. I decided to transfer to my public high school, Canyon Crest Academy, which I’d been unable to start 9th grade at because of the high demand. Wanting to continue having a connection to Judaism, I remember complaining to one of my new friends about the lack of a BBYO chapter in San Diego. For such a major city with such a substantial Jewish population, it seemed weird that there was no chapter to speak of. But that’s when I found out I was wrong—there had been a chapter here this whole time, and it was in need of some help.
I took a chance and reached out to their Godol, whose number was given to me by my friend. The chapter was in an awkward position after a year where, coincidentally, nearly the whole board (except one) had either transferred to boarding school or graduated. So I took it upon myself, along with the help of the JCC that had recently partnered with this chapter, to start the process of reviving Gal Chadash BBYO from the ground up. I got many of my friends involved that had bad encounters with other Jewish youth groups in the past.
I’m not going to lie, recruitment was hard, and for a chapter that didn’t have an official advisor yet, it was even harder. We scraped by with the same few members each week, doing what we could. Then COVID-19 hit, just before the first regional event in Los Angeles that we were supposed to attend as a chapter. I was disappointed, but we moved along and still managed to get through Spring 2020 intact.
August 2020 marked 2 years since moving to California, and I can conclusively say that this time was a godsend for my chapter. We were put in contact with my regional director’s friend from her time in BBYO named Adrea, who happened to live in Pacific Beach. Adrea would go on to serve as our advisor, and we definitely felt a lot better with alumni helping us out. The same flame I had for BBYO as a young recruit was there again, and I realized once again why I was a part of this incredible organization. In just two months, we put Gal Chadash back on the map.
It’s currently December, and nearly 40 new members later, I’ve never felt better as a member of the community here in San Diego. With the passing of our founder and SDSU AEPI brother Noah Hytken, everything we’ve done as a chapter has been continuing his legacy and more. As Godol, the amount of work we’ve been able to accomplish is unreal. Considering the fact that we’re still in lockdown, the way we’ve gotten to where we are now isn’t just a coincidence. It’s the passion that comes from every new BBYO member, the flame that doesn’t go out, that has led us here. I see it in our current 8th graders, in my advisor from when she first joined, in all my board members, and in myself from that year I spent as a member in New Jersey. And we’re not stopping anytime soon.
Liam Rosenberg is an Aleph from Pacific Western Region and moved from GJHRR in 8th grade.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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