Nathaniel Bernstein is the winner of BBYO’s AZA Oratory Contest, the results of which were announced at BBYO’s International Convention 2014, which lasts through Monday, February 17 in Dallas, Texas. He addressed the prompt: “The Jewish people’s history is one of tragedy and triumph, challenge and opportunity and, through it all, we have made a prominent impact on the world. Today, Jews are at society’s forefront contributing to all facets of civilization. As we, the Brothers of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, lead our community into the future, what inspires you about the role the Jewish people could play in the world today and tomorrow?” See the winner of BBYO’s BBG Oratory Contest here.
0.2 percent. 0.2 percent. We are the point-2 percent. This is a chant taken from the infamous 99 percent movement of America. Jews make up 0.2 percent of the entire world while Christians make up around 33.9 percent, Muslims 22.74 percent and Hindus 13.8 percent. Despite our marginal numbers, the Jewish community harnesses a unique kind of strength. We have a connection to each other and to our Jewish heritage born out of overcoming past obstacles – we are a people of unparalleled tenacity.
Our ancestors escaped Egypt. Jewish individuals like Yitzhak Rabin and Albert Einstein account for over 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners, forty times more than expected by population statistics. Our ancestors survived the Holocaust and the Pogroms. We boast artists like Steven Spielberg, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Joel and Drake who win Oscars and Emmys and Tonys and Grammys.
Jews are the engineers, the politicians, the performers, the discoverers and the leaders of the past and the present.
As a member of BBYO, the world’s leading pluralistic Jewish youth movement, I am optimistic about our future. I am inspired every day, whether it be by one of the aforementioned leaders or my brothers in the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA). As a teen-led and staff-supported movement, BBYO empowers us to take the future of the Jewish people into our own hands. An average teenager’s day can be filled with chaos and schoolwork, but BBYO teens are different. We are charged with planning conventions for our communities, programs and service opportunities for our peers – and we feel a sense of duty to accomplish each to the best of our ability.
My brothers and I dedicate hours each week to learning leadership techniques, creating meaningful Jewish content for programming and finding the best ways to engage others in Jewish learning, service and advocacy – among many other things. This is what inspires me – that BBYO teens are doing this today in order to become the most effective leaders of our community tomorrow. I have seen so many of my peers decide to not continue their Jewish learning after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but BBYO has become the alternative to that. It has supplied us with the tools necessary to lead strong Jewish lives, and the community with which to do so.
BBYO is where nearly 40,000 Jewish teens around the world, like me, are inspired to continue to be the engineers, the politicians, the performers, the discoverers and the leaders of the future – and we will be.
Nathaniel Bernstein, a member of the Aleph Zadik Aleph in BBYO Great Midwest Region, is a high school junior from Evanston, Illinois.