BBYO slowly returns to in-person events, NFTY sticks with virtual for now.
Jewish teen programming organizations across Michigan shifted to virtual when the pandemic hit early this year, and while some organizations are sticking with Zoom for now, others are slowly returning to in-person events with precautions.
On Oct. 18, BBYO Michigan had its first in-person event since the pandemic began: its Fall Rush event to recruit new members. BBYO is using the outdoor spaces at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield for programming while the weather is still good.
Each teen was a part of a “pod” that consisted of no more than seven teens. When they arrived, they registered and immediately went to their pod. Masks and COVID-19 waivers were required. In-person chapter meetings began Nov. 1, followed by in-person chapter programs the week after.
Before its gradual return to in-person events, BBYO continued its teen programming virtually through BBYO On Demand starting on March 13, according to Senior Regional Director Rachel Ellis.
BBYO was able to expand its programming. “We could do Shabbat with someone from across the world,” Ellis said. “So COVID’s actually been helpful in expanding our programming, we just had to eliminate the face-to-face in-person stuff.”
Ellis said the best virtual programs were the most interactive and engaging, as opposed to just sitting and learning something for an hour like the teens would in school.
“We did a tie-dye event, and everyone was tie-dying at their own home with the supplies we gave them, on Zoom,” Ellis said. “They had music playing and they were all talking and sharing about their summer and about school. It was like they were hanging out together, but virtually.”
BBYO’s regional convention, a weeklong event of competition between chapters, usually takes place the week of Christmas. BBYO has decided to make the convention a full school-year-long event with competitions virtual.
BBYO recently kicked off “Building Entrepreneurship,” a virtual program giving girls the ability to connect with female entrepreneurs around the country. It kicked off the event with digital creator Liv Schreiber, who spoke to the teens about how to start a business and what motivates her.
Ashley Broad, former star and producer of the hit reality show Hardcore Pawn, is an upcoming guest speaker. A series of Jewish female entrepreneurs is scheduled throughout the year.
“Before, we would just pick local entrepreneurs, and now we have access, because it’s virtual, to so many people everywhere,” Ellis said. “They’re getting mentors from it and learning how to build a business.”
BBYO also entered a partnership with Lost Tribe Esports for an online virtual gaming program. BBYO has been running weekly gaming competitions through the program, open to any Jewish teen, not only BBYO members.
What’s New at NFTY
North American Federation for Temple Youth’s (NFTY) Michigan region has transformed its teen programming to virtual as well, calling the new virtual setting “NFTYx.”
“The ‘x’ is like the x-factor for what everyone can bring,” NFTY Michigan President Miranda Freedman said. “The unique thing about it is that anybody and everybody can design and create a program and bring whatever vision they have for an event to life.”
One of the many positives of NFTYx, according to Freedman, is getting to meet people from all over the country and join their events.
Two recent events NFTY Michigan held include an arts & crafts event and “Self-Reflection Sunday,” where participants got together and reflected on themselves and got to know each other through bonding activities.
Freedman, a current Grosse Pointe South High School student, believes the virtual programming allows NFTY events to be more flexible.
“It fuels our creativity,” Freedman said.“It’s super easy to figure out something to do in-person. But when you’re online, you have to figure out ways to engage everybody, and we think we’re doing a pretty good job of that.”
NFTY Michigan planned a weekend-long “Fall Kickoff” virtual program for the first weekend in November, which was to include Shabbat services and letter-writing to Congress.
“It’s almost like a lobbying program,” Freedman said. “We’re going to do it virtually, write our letters together and mail them in. Not only does that support the USPS, but it also is going to help with getting our ideas and voices heard.”