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History of BBYO

The First 25 Years: 1924-1949

The first 25 years of BBYO was launched with the creation of the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) in 1923 and the establishment of the B'nai B'rith Girls (BBG) in 1944. B'nai B'rith adopted both youth movements during this time and the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) quickly spread around the world. From Omaha to Sofia to Cairo to Tel Aviv to London to Kansas City, it didn't take long for BBYO to be recognized as the premier Jewish youth movement of the global Jewish community.


The organization that was to become the Aleph Zadik Aleph was brought together early in 1923. A group of Jewish boys in Omaha, Nebraska, organized a fraternity and named it "Aleph Zadik Aleph," using the Hebrew letters as a protest against Greek societies, many of which were exlcusive of Jews. Abe Baboir is elected the first president and Nathan Mnookin is elected the first advisor. Later that year, Mnookin moves to Kansas City and with guidance from their new advisor Sam Beber, AZA was declared an international organization on May 3, 1924.

As chapters began to form throughout the United States and Canada, International Conventions were held and International Officers elected. In 1925, AZA was adopted by B'nai B'rith as its official youth program. The Shofar, the international newspaper of BBYO, is drawn up.

In 1926 the first national headquarters open in Omaha, Nebraska and in 1927, the first tournaments are established with debates and basketball trials. The organization truly becomes international with the establishment of the Canadian chapter International AZA #31 in Calgary, Alberta and officially chartered in 1929.

Early BBG

Efforts began immediately to launch a program for Jewish young women that would serve as a sister to AZA in the B'nai B'rith family. Groups emerged as early as 1926 in Seattle, Washington and 1927 in Newark, New Jersey. Unfortunately, however, these groups quickly dissolved. The movement was not defeated, and efforts to create an organization for young Jewish women continued. Rose Mauser organized the first permanent chapter of what is now the B'nai B'rith Girls in December of 1927 in San Francisco, California.


By the tenth anniversary of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, over one hundred chapters existed in North America. The first overseas chapter of the AZA was founded in 1936 in Bulgaria, called Karmen, and chapters followed shortly in the United Kingdom, Halifax, Nova Scotia, throughout Europe, and in what was then Tel Aviv, Palestine. The first professional field staff members were hired to work with AZA chapters around North America.

In 1930, AZA Shabbat is launched as the first international program held simultaneously as well as AZA Founder's Day - both still observed around the world.

In 1931, a charter of laws for the Aleph Zadik Aleph is approved and an organizational partnership is struck with the Scouts of America and AZA. 1932 saw the first International Convention held in Canada.

In 1935, a Library of Freedom is created for movement to promote democracy and the Lapidus Forest in Israel is established. Three thousand dollars are raised for the forest in its first year. The age of recruitment is also lowered to fifteen years as the minimum.

In 1939, AZA coordinates the formation of a national conference that gathers together all of the Jewish youth groups.


An AZA dance, 1947

During World War II, AZA sold more than $6 million in war bonds and committed countless human resources to the war effort. Because the war pulled so many AZA members away from their home communities, the minimum age for membership was lowered to fourteen.

BBG was officially established as an international organization at a meeting held on April 22-23, 1944. A structure was defined at that time to include women from high school to the age of 25, but that system has shifted over time. The first ten BBG charters were issued at this time to San Francisco BBG #1; Oakland, CA #2; Linda Strauss, Los Angeles #3; Harrisburg, PA #4; Highland Park, LA #5; Worcester, MA #6; Lancaster, PA #7; Ramah, Chicago #8; Potsville #9; and Homestead, PA #10. The B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) was born as the umbrella over both groups. The B'nai B'rith Youth Commission was established as BBYO's governing body.

In 1940, AZA raised $10,000 for a campaign against infantile paralysis in memory of member Jerry Safur.

In 1942, all AZA efforts turn toward assisting the victory of the war with sales of dilapidated cars and other community actions to raise funds and hospitality for the men in service.

The International Convention of 1943 was voted on en masse by letters from members all over the world.

BBYO is recognized in 1949 for 25 years of service to the Jewish community.

From 1950 to Today and into Tomorrow


Camp B'nai B'rith was opened in Starlight, Pennsylvania, in 1954 and became home to the AZA International Convention and other BBYO summer programs. Many of BBYO's International Programs were established during this time period, including the International Leadership Training Conference, Kallah (1955) and the Israel Summer Institute (1956).


The 1960's saw continued growth for BBYO and the establishment of Noar L'Noar as BBYO's partner in Israel.


The Aleph Zadik Aleph celebrated its Golden Anniversary (50 years) in 1974. B'nai B'rith Beber Camp was opened in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, in 1977 and the first Chapter Leadership Training Conference was held there that summer. In coordination with the dedication of Beber Camp, Camp B'nai B'rith in Pennsylvania was rededicated as Perlman Camp in honor of BBG's organizer, Anita Perlman.


BBYO's international presence had increased throughout the decades. In 1983, the first offices in continental Europe open and chapters are established in France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Austria. At the same time, districts (which had previously encompassed several regions) were disbanded in North America.

In 1989, the position of Shaliach becomes the 5th position to the international board.

Teen Connection was also established during this time to involve middle school aged Jewish youth.


The Chapter Leadership Training Conference expanded dramatically, becoming the foundation of the organization's training program. BBYO became a partner in the March of the Living upon its establishment in 1990, sending the largest delegation on the first trip. The Max F. Baer Spirit Gavel was established as an annual award to the most spirit region at International Convention.

BBYO holds Holocaust educational theatre in Russia and in 1993 the international program TASC, to promote community service, is established with help from the Kellogg Foundation.

The International Leadership Study in Israel was established, and the AZAA Basketball Tournament was renewed after years of dormancy.

In 1994 the International Spirit Awards are inaugurated and in 1995 the International Leadership Conference in Hungary is installed.

2000 to 2002

The new millennium has brought with it many changes for the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization. The process to establish BBYO, Inc. as a legally independent organization was completed in 2002. A new Board of Directors consisting of representatives from B'nai B'rith International, leading Jewish philanthropies, the United Jewish Communities, and other community leaders assumed governance of BBYO. The organization's international headquarters, along with B'nai B'rith, moved locations for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Today and into Tomorrow

With more than 25,000 teens involved in its programs and 85 years of experience, BBYO continues to be the world's leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement. Through its long history, BBYO has expanded around the globe, introduced new programs and most important, touched hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.

Today, there are more than 250,000 living BBYO alumni—from congressional representatives and top business executives to Jewish communal leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Key to the organization's success has been its highly-effective leadership model –AZA and BBG. While BBYO will continue to focus on its leadership development programs, the organization's recent independence affords BBYO to forge a new direction and adopt a much more expansive and transformational approach to engaging Jewish teens.

Through these new approaches, BBYO will increase significantly the number of teens participating in meaningful Jewish experiences and ultimately inspire them to live Jewish lives.