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BBYO Building Educational Capacity: Jewish Enrichment Institute (JEI) and The Learning Ambassadors (TLA)

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
3 – 5 years
Target audience
Arts & Culture

Since the inception of BBYO's Director of Jewish Enrichment program in 2012, we have trained our teens and our staff to become more confident and skilled Jewish educators and practitioners. With over 19,000 paid members and 100 professional staff in 500 chapters and 35 regions nationwide, our goal is to deepen their BBYO experience. The Jewish Enrichment Institute (JEI) and The Learning Ambassadors (TLA) have successfully inspired our teen leaders and staff vanguard respectively around meaningful, creative, and deep Jewish engagement. They, in turn, have delivered this meaningful content and inspired approach to their peers and their communities.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

For JEI, we have three separate tracks that align with Kivun: BBYO's Educational Framework: Identify - Strengthen Jewish Identity, Connect - Create Jewish Community, Improve - Change the World. Each track focuses on distinct approaches and skill sets:
1. JEI Spiritual Service (Identify) - There have been many Jews in recent decades who have been seekers - trying to find a depth and a spirituality either within Jewish tradition or in other religious (especially eastern) approaches. With the inspiration of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and the Renewal movement, Chasidic lore and storytelling, and contemporary interest in yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, the Spiritual Service track intends to equip teens leaders with the skills to deliver meaningful "spiritual" moments to their peers. With the expertise of Shalom Mayberg (, BBYO professionals, and two teen coordinators, teens learn to deepen Shabbat experiences - to lead guided meditations, run yoga or meditation Shabbat services, and to help themselves and each other relax and slow down in the midst of their stressful and over-programmed lives.
2. JEI Musical Service (Connect) - Songleading and creative Jewish musical approaches are among the most effective means to bringing a community to experience simcha - great Jewish joy. For the last several years, BBYO has been building a teen songleading training infrastructure under the guidance and leadership of Eric Hunker ( and Happie Hoffman ( Just as so much of BBYO is teen-led, the goal is for exceptional Jewish songleading - which leads to great community building (kehilah kedosha), joy (simcha), and enhanced prayer experience (tefilah) - to be a teen-led pursuit in BBYO too. There has been so much momentum and excitement around this pursuit. By developing more and more passionate and talented Jewish songleaders, we hope to inspire more within the BBYO community and also to inspire the larger Jewish community through beautiful Jewish musical moments.
3. JEI Community Service (Improve) - Many understand the intrinsic importance of giving back to one's community and working to help those in need. But many do not know or base their community service work on Judaism's rich tradition and wisdom around service and improving our world. This track goes out and does actual service in the community. Before they do their work, inspiring BBYO professionals and teen coordinators deliver a substantial and creative Jewish framing. They explore Maimonides' Ladder of Tzedakah and the eight levels of giving - and are then asked to imagine and create their own ladder of Tzedakah. They review a plethora of Jewish values, and think about which are most important to them in their service work. This summit is meant to inspire them to future and sustained action back home, and to give them the tools to help their chapters and their peers organize to deliver even more enriching and impactful service work in their home communities.

For TLA, we identified five skills/sensibilities around which we wanted to enhance our staff's confidence. We had two in-person trainings - one in Capital Camps in August at the beginning of our learning, and the other in Chicago in May at the end of our learning. Both sessions were led by Dr. Hal Lewis, President and Chief Executive Officer of Spertus Institute, who used Jewish text to frame and inform everything that he taught. He focused, in particular, on the 10 Things Every (Jewish) Leader Needs to Know and looked at examples in the Torah and Jewish tradition to inform our Jewish leadership today.

Our first session was on "Meaningful Conversations," and was facilitated by by Rabbi Ethan Linden of Congregation Shir Chadash and Celia Livshin, the Senior Regional Director of Great Midwest Region BBYO in Chicago, IL. We focused especially on the 3 P's: Preparation, Presence, and Persistence. Throughout we infused Jewish concepts into an important skill training that must be developed and honed by all successful BBYO employees.

Our second session was on "Team Building" and was facilitated by Dr. Gail Berger of Northwestern University and Lory Conte, Senior Regional Director of North Florida Region BBYO. We focused on building teams with distinct personality types, and did Myers Briggs Type Indicator tests to compare combinations of different personalities, strengths, and challenges.

Our third session was on "Positivity and Authenticity" and was facilitated by Lisa Eisen of the Schusterman Family Foundation and Joey Eisman, Senior Associate for Global Engagement. Among several areas covered, we focused on leaving a legacy for future generations. We watched the Abby Wambach video "Forget Me" and discussed the influence that we have on the lives of our organization and on others.

Our fourth session was on "Openness to Change" and was facilitated by Rabbi Ysoschar Katz of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Samantha Heimsohen, Regional Director of Gold Coast Region BBYO. Using the example of the destruction of the 2nd Temple, we discussed how Judaism had to change and redefine itself to adapt to and thrive in a new reality. Rabbi Katz also discussed Open Orthodoxy as an example of change within Orthodox Judaism.

Our fifth and final webinar session was on "Innovative Thinking Strategies" and was facilitated by Dr. David Bryfman of the Jewish Education Project and Rebecca Cohen, Senior Associate of Campaigns and Movement Initiatives. We focused especially on the distinction between "Sustaining Innovation" (i.e. doing something better or making enhancements to things that already exist) and "Disruptive Innovation" (i.e. playing the game differently, creates a new market and transforms or destroys a current market). We had vibrant conversations about how to apply this concepts of innovation to our everyday work.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

JEI seeks both to inspire and to train our teen leaders around the methodologies that we teach.
In the Spiritual Service and Musical Service tracks, our experts lead excellent guided meditations or song sessions to model the behavior, and then they teach the participants how to do this themselves. In the Community Service track, the participants go out and do meaningful service work with advanced Jewish service-learning, and are given the tools and inspiration to create this experience for their chapters and peers back home.
All three tracks created a resource packet for the participants to take home with them and to guide their ongoing efforts.
Since this is taking place within an established infrastructure of BBYO teen leadership and chapters, it is natural for participants to have a platform (their home chapters/councils/regions) through which they can pay their learning and inspiration forward.
It is a extraordinary thing about BBYO culture that the teens already see themselves as active leaders responsible for the content and vibrancy of their chapter/council/regional functions. We provide them the tools, and they take them and run with them.

TLA's model meant to expose our staff to some of the most impressive educators and practitioners in the Jewish community today. Through the webinars and sessions with these admirable individuals, our staff were inspired and also given useful tools and approaches to think about some of the pressing issues in their work from Jewish perspectives.
Our cohort model, however, was what helped to reinforce this learning and help our staff process and reflect on how to apply the learning to their everyday lives and their regular work. Our 21 participating staff were divided into three cohorts of seven professionals. Each cohort was facilitated by one of the Directors of Jewish Enrichment or the Chapter and Regional Effectiveness Director who collaborated on this project from the field department. The cohorts met twice after each webinar, and the experience served as a process group where professionals could brainstorm with each other about the content of the webinar and their own work, share best practices, and be sounding boards for each other. When it was unclear to professionals how to effectively bridge the learning from the webinar to the practice, the cohort groups gave the staff participants a plethora of new ideas and approaches. And they also provided a safe space for them to experiment, to share, and to build dynamic and supportive community. In the end, the cohorts were not just a means to an end - they were invaluable too. For so many young professionals who work out of solo offices, having other professionals to speak with and to collaborate with in a structured space helped them be better professionals and to do their jobs more effectively. Several of the BBYO professionals had felt under-confident delivering deep Jewish content to their communities, and TLA helped give them the confidence to use Jewish sources to deliver their profound and important messages, and to do their jobs with greater Jewish inspiration.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

JEI has operated now for three years - in Dallas in 2014, in Atlanta in 2015, and in Baltimore in 2016. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) in Dallas was 71.9, and in Baltimore it climbed to 90.2. In 2014, JEI served 50 teen leaders, and in 2016 it served 70. Which is to say, more people have decided to attend JEI, and they are almost all answering "9" or "10" on a scale from 0-10 whether or not they would recommend this program to a friend (0 being "they would not" and 10 being "immediately and enthusiastically"). The Community Service track scored a perfect 100 - everybody in the track replied "9" or "10" to our NPS survey question.

We also have a plethora of meaningful teen testimonials - here are three examples:
“JEI was so special for me. I was back with my best friends, singing special songs, and learning great skills. We create some great moments as a whole that really inspired me to further my Jewish education. I will always look back on this experience the same way I look back on my Perlman memories – it was meaningful and inspiring. We became a tight-knit family in such a short amount of time.” – Maddie S.
“I feel an enriched sense of my own Judaism, and empowered to continue to question my faith and love my identity.” – Amy V.
“I have always had ideas on helping others. That is what I want to do in my future, and it has been for a while. But during JEI, I learned that with my voice, I can create a domino effect of action and inspire other people to want to help others too.” – Jake S.

We also have extraordinary anecdotal evidence. For example, one JEI 2015 participant who was especially inspired by JEI went out after the summit to purchase a guitar for the first time in her life, taught herself how to play it for havdalah, and led her havdalah during their regional convention just a couple months later! BBYO's March of the Living 2016 delegation featured the songleading of a JEI 2015 and JEI 2016 alumnus. More and more teen songleaders are choosing to songlead in their chapters and at their conventions. In BBYO summer programs in 2016, each of the eight CLTC sessions, at ILTC, and at Kallah there will be a video released of the magical musical moments that teen songleaders are helping to create. That's 10 videos featuring scores of BBYO teen songleaders - we're creating significant momentum and excitement around this pursuit.

For TLA, there is similarly compelling evidence. The BBYO professionals gave extraordinary feedback on the impact TLA had on their professional pursuits and in their lives.

BBYO professionals said:

"TLA was such a beneficial experience for me as a young developing Jewish professional. As a member of BBYO field team, it can sometimes be hard to connect with colleagues who do similar work to me as we are spread out in different offices throughout North America. These connections are necessary to do the job of a regional director as effectively and efficiently as possible. I rely on best practices from my colleagues all the time. Through TLA, I was able to develop a cohort of peers that supported me, challenged me, and ultimately, helped me do my job better than I could have done it alone."

"TLA gave me both theoretical and practical help with my day-to-day responsibilities. Many conversations I had with teens, advisors, managers, and other associates were couched in lessons I picked up during a TLA session. I found sessions focused on management skills (through a Jewish lens!) particularly helpful. I am highly satisfied with my own experience as a member of TLA and would wholeheartedly recommend it to other BBYO employees. I believe many Jewish organizations can learn from the way BBYO is allocating resources to professional development to younger members of its staff."

One professional decided to take a year to study at Pardes in Israel after his experience in TLA. Another professional did research into inspirational Jewish women and delivered their research to her BBG (female) Regional Board members as part of a leadership training. There are numerous examples of the impact that TLA had on the participants, and how this impact translated into deeper Jewish engagement for our teens.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Our teens and our staff are eager to tap into our rich Jewish heritage to inform their own approach to their BBYO experience and their work creating meaningful Jewish experiences for their peers and their teens.
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences approach has been informative and useful in this respect. For JEI, we have employed a variety of different "intelligences" including musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual/spatial, and others to focus on a compelling methodology to deliver meaningful content.
We also believe that our content is both timeless and timely - it's useful to the teen leaders and staff members, and it exemplifies a uniquely Jewish approach which is informed by Jewish text, culture, and heritage.
The endeavor of Jewish creativity is far from over. By asking our teens and our staff to enter the workspace of Jewish creativity and to help our community continue to innovate and invent, we're challenging them to contribute to a golden age of Jewish revival and enrichment. And in doing so, they'll help bring about this golden age, and inspire others to join them in this pursuit.