Life After BBYO: An Alumni Q&A Part 2

March 8, 2021
Джесс Данинхирш

Питтсбург, Пенсильвания, Соединенные Штаты.

класс 2022 года

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Stuart Cohen (he/him), alumni and parent - Greater Pittsburgh Region (currently Keystone Mountain Region)

Q: How did BBYO affect your life after graduating high school and going into college?

A: BBYO taught me how to make friends. It taught me to look for people of character and other leaders. I didn’t go to a big university with a large Jewish population, so it wasn’t easy to find other Jews at school. Because of this, I started a Jewish Students Association and got it recognized as a recognized student organization. We had 20 plus students involved by the time I graduated, and honestly, I don’t know if there were many more on campus.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of your time in BBYO?

A: There are so many great memories from my time in BBYO. I spent my junior and senior years on regional board, and at that time in the Pittsburgh area, we had two Regions; GPR (Greater Pittsburgh Region) which was Pittsburgh and its close suburbs, and Allegheny Region (Small towns that stretched down the three rivers such as Morgantown/Weirton WV, New Castle, Indiana, Monessen/Donora, etc.). We would hold joint events/conferences, and I made friends from all of these areas. One of my best friends up until today came from Allegheny Mtn. Region. We still talk at least once on a weekly basis. 

We also had a large group that hung out outside of BBYO. We would go to concerts, movies on Flagstaff Hill, weekends at 7 Springs for skiing. These young men and women were my circle that my life revolved around.

Q: Do you still have any physical ties to it (such as pins or clothing)?

A: Unfortunately, I don’t have any memorabilia left from those days. I did get to relive some of it through my three sons that all were active participants. What I do have are lots of memories, great stories, and lifelong friendships.

Q: Are you still in touch with the people you met in BBYO?

A: Facebook has been the tool that brought a lot of us back together, at least in the sense of connection to each other. I was the youngest of three brothers that participated in BBYO. I’m friends with former BBYO’ers that were in from 1978-1988. I graduated in 1985, and I’m so lucky to have been touched by so many from that era. Two of my best friends are from BBYO.

Q: Were you in a sorority/fraternity in college? Did your time in BBYO influence your choice to join one? In what ways is the sorority/fraternity experience similar AND different to BBYO?

A: Of course I joined a Fraternity, it was the natural progression after BBYO, the Brotherhood. I went to a small school that didn’t have many Jewish students, so we didn’t have any traditional Jewish fraternities. I joined Delta Sigma Phi at Slippery Rock University, and we had the most Jews in Greek Life. My big was Jewish, and two of my littles were Jewish. I joined the most inclusive fraternity on campus because that’s what BBYO taught me: be inclusive, respect all, and don’t be afraid to call someone a Brother.

Q: Did your experiences in BBYO influence any of your future plans (i.e. to include more Judaism into your daily life)?

A: BBYO has been ingrained through all parts of my life. My ex-wife and I met in BBYO. All three of my sons were actively involved, with two being Regional Godol. It was important for us to bring our sons up Jewish and involved in a Jewish youth group. They chose BBYO, but we gave them other options. I had a chance to be the advisor for their chapter for a couple of years, and I saw how the organization meant as much to them as it did to me. I have always been more spiritually Jewish than religiously Jewish, and BBYO taught me to balance my Jewish life and secular life. I don’t know if I would have that balance without my time in BBYO.

Max Cohen (he/him), alumni, 27th Regional Godol of KMR

Q: How did BBYO affect your life after graduating high school and going into college?

A: BBYO honestly did a great job setting me up for college. The leadership skills I gained helped me tremendously. It was super easy to meet new people and find things in common because that was basically what I did every year in BBYO, whether in KMR or an international event. It made it easy to talk with other Jews on campus too, especially since many had also done BBYO in high school. I may not have known them yet, but Jewish geography definitely helped me connect with new people.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of your time in BBYO?

A: Oh man, I have so many memories of BBYO that I look back on with smiles. Two really stand out though, one from KMR and one from IC. The first is from KMR, and that was my freshman year New Member Weekend. I had joined in 8th grade, so I felt a little out of place at that convention since I wasn’t new. But it was there that I met some of my closest friends even today! Jess Hertzberg most notably, as we went on to be KMR presidents together! The IC one is from my first one in 2015 in Atlanta. I was able to reunite with my friends from CLTC 3, 2014, and even room with a few. That was hands down one of the best conventions and weekends of my life. It really cemented our friendship, and we all still talk a lot!

Q: Do you still have any physical ties to it (such as pins or clothing)?

A: For my high school graduation, my mom turned some of my favorite t-shirts into a blanket, including some of my BBYO ones. Most of my stuff I gave away at Lives, but my favorites I kept and I am glad to have a piece of that always. It includes the shirt from the New Member Weekend I coordinated, and my CLTC and ILTC shirts, among others. 

Q: Are you still in touch with the people you met in BBYO?

A: I absolutely am! I still have a couple of group chats with friends that we talk in pretty frequently, and I keep in contact with a few people individually too! Many also reached out after the tragedy at Tree of Life in 2018, which occurred right down the street from me at Pitt.

Q: Were you in a sorority/fraternity in college? Did your time in BBYO influence your choice to join one? In what ways is the sorority/fraternity experience similar AND different to BBYO?

A: I actually graduated from the University of Pittsburgh last April, but all four years I was in Greek Life. I joined Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammy) my freshman year, and it was such a great decision for me. BBYO definitely made me want to rush more, and even talking to some of the guys at rush events and them telling me they were in BBYO in high school too made me feel really comfortable with them. Fraternity processes are similar to BBYO with weekly meetings, events, etc., but for sure had some big differences. Each organization does things a little differently, whether it be traditions, housing situations, and more.

Q: Did your experiences in BBYO influence any of your future plans (i.e. to include more Judaism into your daily life)?

A: BBYO absolutely influenced my future plans, especially centering around being Jewish. I learned a lot about myself and how I want Judaism to be a part of my life. It made me want to go to Hillel on campus more, and celebrate Shabbat with others. I may not be very religious, but the community means a lot to me and that started with BBYO for me.

Q: Because your father (Stuart Cohen) was a member of BBYO, did he influence or encourage you to join BBYO?

A: My dad was very supportive when my brothers joined and I joined BBYO. He was even our chapter advisor for a little bit when we didn’t have one. The rest of my family was super supportive too, as my mom, grandmas, and uncles were also in BBYO; I always felt supported in joining the organization!

Alex Cohen (he/him), alumni, former Regional Godol of KMR

Q: How did BBYO affect your life after graduating high school and going into college?

A: BBYO very much prepared me for the challenges of time management and decision making in college. I was consistently serving as a board position (whether chapter or regional) for 4 of my 5 years in KMR. I’d say my last 2 years being Regional Godol gave me the skills to feel comfortable enough to apply myself in new organizations and friend groups.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of your time in BBYO?

A: Without a doubt, my best memories have to be from New Member Weekend 2017. I was really lucky to steer it with Toby Lazear that year, and it was the last home-housed convention I can remember. It was one of those times where everything I loved about KMR (the friends, the traditions, and vibe) coalesced perfectly. It really brings back some serious nostalgia for me.

Q: Do you still have any physical ties to it (such as pins or clothing)?

A: Personally, as much as I loved BBYO, I gave all of my things away to my friends and to my younger brother. It played a HUGE role in my life, but I felt like it was time to move on and redefine myself in college. I’ve been thankful to have been able to stop back to see my friends Evan and Maya give their States speeches in 2019, but I haven’t revisited it since then.

Q: Are you still in touch with the people you met in BBYO?

A: Yes! While I certainly am not close to a lot of people anymore, I still am best friends with my friend group from BBYO and still keep in touch with some friends I made on CLTC and ILTC. I still talk to some of my BBYO friends every day!

Q: Are you currently in a sorority/fraternity? Did your time in BBYO influence your choice to join one? In what ways is the sorority/fraternity experience similar AND different to BBYO?

A: I am currently involved with Alpha Epsilon Pi at the University of Pittsburgh. BBYO was definitely an influence, but I truly didn’t have aspirations to join a fraternity until I met the guys and their friendship won me over. I think the leadership and programming are similar in a sense, and I think that may be the Jewish backbone of AEPi making that obvious to me, but I find the opportunities for philanthropy and community engagement to be different. I feel like the resources available to me and the life experience I’ve gained have made my outlook very different than it was three years ago.

Q: Did your experiences in BBYO influence any of your future plans (i.e. to include more Judaism into your daily life)?

A: BBYO definitely shaped how I view being Jewish. I have always loved the cultural aspects of being Jewish (eg. the language, the music, the food, the people), but was never one who completely bought into the religious aspects. The pluralistic approach to Judaism that I experienced in BBYO opened my eyes to different experiences, and while I can’t say I fully understand how others find meaning in their Judaism, I’m certainly open to learning and hearing about them.

Q: Because your father (Stuart Cohen) was a member of BBYO, did he influence or encourage you to join BBYO?

A: Interestingly, my dad was not a part of my life for the majority of the time I did BBYO. It was truly my older brother Max who pushed me to do it. By the time I joined when I was 14, he was chapter Godol and had gone on to be regional Moreh. It was just assumed that I would join, and while it was actually a tough sell for me at first, I went head first after my freshman year.

Max Cohen (left) and Alex Cohen (right) holding the KMR gavel.


Джесс Данинхирш (Jess Daninhirsch) - BBG из горного региона Кистоун, который любит журналистику, фотографию, искусство, музыку и танцы.

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