As Director of Youth Engagement here at Peninsula Temple Sholom, I am constantly being asked about various Jewish youth groups throughout the peninsula. To our pleasure, there are plenty of choices for our Jewish teens. The question that comes up most, though: Should I do NFTY or BBYO? I am asked this question more than anything in my position, and my answer is, “Why not both?”
Both NFTY and BBYO have their strengths that will provide our teens with the growth and fun that we all want them to receive. According to a report from the UJC Report Series on the NJPS, teens that participate in Jewish youth organizations are already more likely than those who don’t to marry someone Jewish, have close Jewish friends, belong to a synagogue, find their Judaism important, and have an attachment to Israel. It doesn’t say which youth group helps teens achieve these connections, just that any Jewish youth group involvement will help teens create these connections. Once we get past these goals for what we want for our teens, we then have to dive deeper into exactly what each of these programs offers.
One of BBYO’s major strengths is the leadership experience for their teens. While both BBYO and NFTY follow the by youth for youth model, BBYO does a great job of providing a structured board experience for its teens. BBYO chapters meet weekly with very specific proceedings, mimicking those of an actual board of trustees. This allows teens to learn leadership skills in a very real setting. Meetings are also held with the entire chapter in attendance, allowing everyone to have the experience even if they are not a member of the board. Not everyone can be on the board at once, but BBYO chapters also have multiple terms a year, which allows for more teens to have opportunities at leadership positions.
NFTY TYGs, or Temple Youth Groups, have more relaxed and open rules for their leadership. The rules and set up of each TYG is not as consistent as BBYO chapters, but what NFTY lacks in consistency of their individual TYGs, they make for in the regional experience. NFTY has 4-5 regional events and one national event per year, giving teens plenty of opportunities to meet Jews from all over their region (NFTY has 19 regions) and North America. Regions also choose a study theme and an action theme for the year, and base programming for teens off of them. This year NFTY Central West Region has chosen mental health in teens to be their study theme, and provides programming to educate their teens on these topics at each of their regional events. NFTY does a great job at giving teens an opportunity to learn in a way that is fun and feels like it means something to these them, and the teens love it.
We constantly view the question as NFTY vs BBYO, but why look at these as opposing activities? There are lessons to be gained from both of these organizations, and everyday these organizations are being brought closer together. Even now, both NFTY and BBYO are both members of the North Peninsula Teen Collective, working together to engage Jewish teens in the Bay Area. So next time you find yourself posing NFTY vs BBYO, instead ask yourself, “¿Por qué no los dos — Why not both?”