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Six Days, Nineteen Times

Posted Jun 07 2013 12:30pm

PaliAZA I'm going to cry about 17 times as I write this. And it will undoubtedly take me a while to write this. 

For the record, it's Wednesday, May 29. It's almost 10pm. 

If you don't know me personally or have not been following me for very long (in which case, shame on you - I'm hilarious. Go follow me on Twitter immediately), you may not know or understand about my affiliation with BBYO .

The B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, or BBYO, is a leading, international, pluralistic teen movement. If that sentence makes no sense to you (honestly, I always have to google "pluralism"), essentially it is a Jewish youth group. Your church may have a youth group, your high school may have clubs, but they don't come close to BBYO; trust me. While adults hold salaried positions within the organization, it is an entirely youth led and independently funded non-profit. Those who know it as an outsider might call it a "cult" but only because they are jealous of how this organization touches its members' hearts, builds leaders and forges friendships.

BBYO is broken down into localized regions which are further broken down into area chapters. BBYO is also divided into halves -- the girls, who are called BBGs (B'nai B'right Girls) and AZAs (Aleph Tzadik Aleph - Hebrew letters smilar to how fraternities use Greek letters) or, Alephs. 

I have to give you all of this background so you can follow the rest of the entry. Thank you for bearing with me.

I was previously a member of BBYO throughout high school. Currently, I am five and a half years into advising a local chapter in the same region I was a member of. The same chapter, by the way, that my mother and aunt were members of when they were in high school. (To clarifiy, there have been various incarnations of these chapters and regions but for all intents and purposes, yes, the same ones.) Knowing, of course, what being in this organization did for me as a teenager, I always planned to come back and advise at some point.

Without breaking down my entire psyche for you, let's just say I'm not a kid person and most people know that about me, so I'm sure it shocked everyone to shit that I wanted to be a BBG Advisor. I was on board from the first minute. I passed my background check and days later was walking up to a group of teen girls in a West Valley Jewish Community Center parking lot saying "Hey, I'm your new advisor."

Those girls probably thought I was a crazy person, by the way. 

They soon learned the truth. I am a crazy person. ;)

My first regional weekend -- one of 3-5 times a year the whole Southern California region comes together for themed acitvities and more -- I was the only advisor. The region was struggling to find volunteers then so it was me and three paid staffers. I found being a volunteer allows you a little more latitiude than paid employees are permitted so I seized the opportunity to start getting to know these kids. 

I won't ever forget this weekend. I won't forget that my girls played a fierce regional game of Duck Duck Goose or that one of my favorite Alephs tripped chasing a basketball and split his knee open. I won't forget that I danced so much I had an asthma attack or that I found a new appreciation for Ugg boots doing bed checks late at night in the middle of a freezing Malibu Canyon campground. 

I won't soon forget any weekend I spent with my kids. 

Right now, I'm fighting the urge to recount every treasured story for you. It's really tempting. There is so much emotion folded into this experience and I want to share it with everyone. I really do. 

... Taking mascots hostage... white t-shirt arts and crafts... Boys in drag dancing to The Time Warp... Over 800 voices cheering in unison at an international convention... Funny costumes (some of the Alephs like to wear a cow costume complete with udders)... Inappropriate mascots... Song sessions... Twin fights... Religious enlightenment.... Making bracelets, Making cookies, Making pizza from scratch, Making sandwiches... Exposing a new audience to Troop Beverly Hills... Birthday surprises and Advisor Appreciation lunches... The shy girl in the corner who would become chapter President someday... The girl who always wore a flower in her hair... The small girls with the big voices... Learning teen slang... Countless inside jokes and stories... Twerking (yes, really)... Pop Tart sandwiches... Bed Checks and bad camp food... Even catching kids with liquor (yeah, I was the one who took a swig to verify) and crying through sending someone home for a violation... 

It would take me hours and hours.

I always say "I may never have children, but I will always have my kids." Although in truth, I'm more like the cool oder sister. I just love them. I do. To pieces in fact. When given the chance to go out of town with friends or go on a retreat with the kids, I've always chosen the kids. When my chapter has experienced amazing triumphs, I've cried in celebration. When they've had heartbreak, I've cried with them in anguish. I've hugged, kissed, loved, yelled at and obsessed with these teenagers for years. 

On a few rare ocassions, things have veered out of control. With teenagers comes drama and with adults who supervise teenagers comes major drama. So I've tried to resign two or three times before. But I always came to my sense quickly and came back with my tail between my legs. 

But about six months ago, I realized I was worn out. It could have been the upward trajectory of my career, my active social life -- who knows. I was just tired. And I suddenly felt out of control of my life. I still feel that way most of the time, in fact. And I made the decision that I was going to have to make some harder decisions to get that control back. I realized that I'm the kind of person who only lives up to her commitments at 110% and that sadly, I did not have it in me to give 110% to BBYO anymore. I could half-ass it, I could cut back on my time, but my girls have really come to rely on me and they deserve an Advisor they could continue to rely on this way and quite frankly, I just knew I was not that person anymore. I broke my own heart. I broke their hearts and I read a resignation speech to them in December.

This was the first time I'd resigned and knew I would not be changing my mind. 

I'm not going to lie, I've been tempted a few times. The hardest part was this most recent regional retreat over Memorial Weekend. If I ever worried these kids did not appreciate me or benefit from my involvement in the organization, they provewd me wrong. They basically beat me over the head with love and appreciation. A slideshow tribute, a talent show skit, a gift presentation -- I cried so much over the weekend. One of the regional Presidents walked up to me and said "never doubt that you made a difference in our lives."

My heart plummeted into my stomach. How do you not die from hearing such a compliment? 

One of the highlights of this particular weekend -- the other Advisors. How far we've come from me being the only volunteer staff to sitting among a team of ten. Over the years, I've made friends with some really great people I would not have otherwise met. And this makes it both harder and easier to leave -- harder because I am jealous of the path most of them are just starting down and easier because I know the kids will be taken care of.

My replacement will join their ranks and I have mixed feelings about that. Oh, I know -- "no one could ever replace you, AJ," etc. But for all intents and purposes, yes, a girl will come advise my chapter. She will replace me. She will be a cuter, younger model and while I am relieved beyond measure that someone will be there for my girls, I must confess I am completely jealous and bitter. (No one's ever accused me of lying, so why start now?) What if they forget about me? What if she's way cooler than I am and I suddenly become the old lady? I'll be a much more distant memory. This cuts like a knife into every socially anxious and awkward fear I've ever had.

For now, I bid your farewell BBYO. I will continue supporting you in my heart and mind, with what little I can spare from my wallet on ocassion, and I hope those of your members who feel like I'm quitting on them will forgive me. I have loved every single second in your fold - even the seconds I wasn't loving it - and I can't thank you enough for what you've done for me as a human being and what you've done for my heart and soul. 

My final Advisor'ing:

Thank you to all of the remarkable teenagers I've befriended - many that I will continue to count as friends. Thank you for being adorable, funny, creative, clever, passionate, brilliant and even devious. For those of you still in the group or just beginning in BBYO, I advise you to seize every opportunity, make the most of every moment, hug every friend and savor every leasson learned. I advise you to attend regional weekends and participate in every activity. Ask questions. Meet new people. I advise you to listen to the regional directors who are amazing, lovely, supportive, adoring underpaid people who only always have your best interests at heart and in mind. I advise you to not be angry when they don't call you back at 11:00 at night - they are entitled to their own lives, you know, and I advise you to show them your appreciation and respect as often as possible. Similary I advise you to pay the same homage to the volunteer staff. These are people who work full-time and still provide you with as many hours as they can for your benefit. They love you like family and care about you, no matter how many times they tell you to stay out of the opposite sex's dorm room at night and what you think that means. What we do does not come easy and it certainly doesn't come with payment and I hope you'll remember that.

To the teenagers past and present of my BBYO region, again I thank you. I love you. It's been a profound privelege and the greatest surprise of my life. It is possible I will be back some day, when some distance from this reinvigorates me, but for now, I am off on new adventures. My life and my being has been forever changed for having been around you and I don't care how dramatic that sounds. Please know that I am leaving BBYO for now, but am never gone. I remain your favorite social media junkie an I am only a tweet or text away if you need a friend. 

I hesitate to cease writing this post as it implies a formality and hard ending that I am not sure I can emotionally cope with but I cannot type forever and it is already the longest post I've ever published to my blog. 

For the record, it is June 4 as I finish writing this. In the evening. I cried 19 times as I wrote this. 

Love, AJ


(Yep, totally busted out the Star Trek nerdiness for this.)

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