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10.31.14 Issue

by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation of Omaha

Earlier this month, the Jewish Federation of Omaha kicked off its 2015 Annual Campaign with an appearance by Jerry Greenfield, co-creator of the world famous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand.

He was expected to discuss his business, corporate and branding success in relation to his Jewish upbringing and philanthropic values. After Annual Campaign Chair Norm Sheldon suggested Omaha’s teens might find the evening interesting, BBYO Director Rachel Martin decided Greenfield’s message would benefit BBYO teens inching closer to higher education and career decisions.

She arranged a BBYO night that included dinner and attendance at the Annual Campaign event. Nearly 25 Omaha teens were present, representing area high schools that included Burke, Papillion-La-Vista, Elkhorn South, Millard North, Millard West and Westside.

Martin said more Jewish teens are looking for fun and meaningful ways to connect to their Jewish pride and each other, and they were excited to attend. “So much of our programming is centered on our own age group. The teens welcomed the opportunity to attend a community fundraiser where we see first-hand how funds are raised to support our programming.”

Josh Polack, left, Ben Raffel, Brett Robinson, and Jake Baron.

Josh Polack, left, Ben Raffel, Brett Robinson, and Jake Baron.

One of those teens was Mother Chapter member Brett Robinson. “I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Greenfield speak. It was especially fun to experience his story of success alongside my BBYO chapter. I loved hearing about the way he chose to run his business; not as concerned about the money aspect but more the importance of supporting your community. I was happy we were invited to attend.”

Burke Freshman Ben Raffel echoed his Mother chapter brother. “All my BBYO friends were attending and that definitely got me interested. Plus, my grandparents (Suzy and Norm Sheldon, 2015 Annual Campaign Chairs) were helping to put the event together and we got free ice cream.”

Referring to Greenfield, Raffel said, “It was interesting how his goal for Ben & Jerry’s was not to get rich; usually, people go into business to make money. Instead, he wanted to help his community, give back to people and just have fun making ice cream.”

“I think it’s really cool my grandparents are helping the Federation and the Jewish community.”

Cornbelt Council Godol Max Polack commented that he was looking forward to meeting a prominent speaker. “Greenfield successfully conveyed the message of trying different things in order to be successful. It was an important message, something we can remember when we plan programming for our upcoming regional conventions.”

If making the teens aware of the relationship between BBYO and the Jewish Federation of Omaha was a priority, then it was an unqualified success. “Without the Jewish Federation, I feel like Omaha BBYO wouldn’t have a lot of the things we do have. It’s a great way to keep teens involved in the Jewish Community,” added Cornbelt Council Sganit Jessica Shandell.

Senior Isaac Rogers shared an interesting perspective, “We are connected to the Jewish Federation of Omaha because we represent the Jewish population in the age group between childhood and adulthood.”

Perhaps without realizing it, this year’s BBYO teens are continuing a proud tradition of leadership and excellence. Last year, Omaha Cornbelt Council Godol and Jewish Federation of Omaha Teen Leadership Award winner Tyler Siegel stated, “BBYO teens shouldn’t just be a part of the Jewish future, they should lead it.”

Activities run the gamut from social action to community building to fundraising. BBYO teens recently spent a Sunday afternoon helping build Sukkahs around the Federation campus and handcrafted High Holiday messages and decorations to send to IDF military bases. Last weekend, they enjoyed a Timeflies concert at the Sokol Auditorium.

In November, they head to Kansas City for the Mid America Region Fall Convention and will run a canned food drive to support BBYO’s national drive in conjunction with the November release of the Third Hunger Games film, Mockingjay.  Donations will be delivered to The Stephen Center and the Jewish Family Service food pantry.

Want to join an amazing group of Jewish teens, plan events, secure leadership skills and have fun celebrating your Judaism?  Become a part of the world’s largest pluralistic teen movement. Contact Rachel Martin at 402.334.6404 or or check out BBYO on its Facebook page,