Named the 30th Mazkirah in her regional B’nei B’rith Girls (BBG) group, junior Sophie Gershenwald has earned a coveted leadership position among her “sisterhood with a common bond.”
The international Jewish teen organization BBYO (formerly known as B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) “encourages Jewish teens to find meaning in Judaism and to develop their own Jewish identities.” BBYO is divided into two gender sects: girls are included in BBG and boys are in Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA).
“I think it’s segregated to promote a greater sense of closeness because BBYO is a place were everyone has to be comfortable and express themselves,” Gershenwald said. “We just have a different kind of connection, through Jewish identity and belief.”
BBYO, which spans across countries in every continent, is broken into regions, with each region separated into chapters. Gershenwald represents chapter BBG63, which is part of the Lonestar region comprising Houston, Austin and San Antonio.
“When Sophie began talking about BBYO, I didn’t really understand what a big deal it was at first,” junior Emily Griffith said. “But now, seeing how much time she commits and hearing her talk about it, I realize how great BBYO is.”
When Gershenwald joined BBYO as a freshman, she mistook the opening event as a one-time gathering instead of the mark of dedicated commitment.
“I didn’t have any idea what it was when I went,” Gershenwald said. “I was brought to this room where kids were already screaming, hugging and cheering with each other.”
Gershenwald soon became involved in community service projects, bonding events and travel opportunities hosted by BBYO. By sophomore year, she was running for one of the ten chapter board positions, each lasting a six-month term.
Gershenwald first ran for Mazkirah, the position in charge of communication, without success. She later ran for chapter president, or N’siah, but instead became second vice president. She ran for president again the first semester of junior year and was named MIT Mom, or president of recruitment. Gershenwald held this position while contending in regional elections.
“I remember hearing Sophie talk about all the preparation she was having to do leading up to elections,” Griffith said. “She devoted so much of her time and energy, and it paid off.”
Only members of the chapter board are eligible to run for regional positions. Candidates start meeting with regional directors and parents one month in advance.
“I was anxious about participating one step up in regionals since I had gotten all different positions than what I ran for before,” Gershenwald said.
Every candidate undergoes a process called “meet the candidate,” in which she is interviewed by regional BBG members without preparation.
“It’s about getting a better sense of who you are and what you’ll do for the position,” Gershenwald said. “Watching everyone’s reactions to your answers can be nerve-wrecking.”
Candidates then present a speech and display their signs and posters, called platforms. After over eight hours of the process, voters decided to offer Gershenwald the title of Mazkirah.
“The experience was still a little scary,” Gershenwald said. “The terms for regional board are only a year long, and I wouldn’t get any other chance to run. That was it.”
Gershenwald directs BBG social media, including Twitter and Facebook posting for each event. Managing communication among 800 teens requires frequent planning and conferencing.
“We do our job to make sure we promote ourselves effectively and reach out to as many people as possible,” Gershenwald said.
Gershenwald also helps organize 6-8 Connect, a BBYO introduction program that allows students in grades six through eight to bond with older teens.
“I need to make sure that there’s a place for everybody, that we make an impact through relatability and acceptance,” said Gershenwald.
Involvement in communications gives Gershenwald confidence towards a future business career.
Gershenwald said, “Working at this level is a preparation for the real adult world.”