If Ethan Honey is nervous, he is not letting it show.
The 17-year-old was elected as president of BBYO (formerly the B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation) in the UK and Ireland last month.
His lack of nerves, despite his new position of responsibility, may well be down to BBYO itself. He explained: “A large part of our ideology is peer leadership. BBYO has shaped me both as a leader and as a person. It has given me a lot of confidence.”
Three years ago, Mr Honey was not even a BBYO member.
“Someone from my synagogue — Hatch End Masorti — told me about BBYO. I was looking for a movement to be a part of, something Jewish to connect with. I wanted to join a movement before I went on Israel tour, so that I would know more people. I didn’t attend a Jewish school, so I was looking for that way to stay involved.”
Mr Honey went along to his local BBYO chapter and started attending the weekly events. It is a path similar to that taken by many BBYO members, who come from Liberal, Reform, Masorti and United synagogue backgrounds.
“We mainly target people post bar and bat mitzvah age, where we know there tends to be a decrease in engagement”, he said. “We really want to make sure teenagers, who are the future of our Jewish communities, are getting engaged, getting that meaning and connection with Judaism for the rest of their lives.”
BBYO has a 75-year history in the UK. But its reach spans far beyond Britain.
“We’re a global movement, currently in 42 countries”, Mr Honey said.
“We have 600 chapters across the world and around 500,000 alumni. We are the world’s largest Jewish pluralistic youth movement.”
Despite the eye-catching numbers, the membership figure for the UK is far smaller. Mr Honey says that around 100 people took part in the UK programme last year, with the youth group having six chapters: four in London, one in Manchester and one in Dublin.
But he has every hope the organisation will expand.
“The sign-up for our first couple of events is looking very promising. We want to grow as much as we can, reaching out to new groups of people but also if possible reaching out to Jewish communities which we aren’t active in at the moment.”
Upcoming initiatives include a yacht party, taking place next week, as well as a Fall Fest — billed as the “ultimate night out” — for teens in school years 7 to 13. The organisation also takes part in Mitzvah Day and the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration. BBYO offers Jewish enrichment and Israel engagement classes, summer and winter camps, and training conventions.
“We’re invested in making Judaism fun and exciting for Jewish teenagers everywhere,” Mr Honey said.
“That’s a key part of our mission — we want to provide meaningful experiences and a meaningful connection to Judaism, not just to Jews in secondary school, but something that they’ll connect to for the rest of their lives.”