On Dec. 5, BBYO honored Rachel Kronowitz and Mark Plotkin with the Philip Berg Distinguished Alumni Award at the ninth annual Celebration of BBYO for their involvement in both the international Jewish youth organization and the D.C. community.
Involved with BBYO when they were teenagers, Kronowitz and Plotkin have been friends since high school. They later studied and practiced law together. Plotkin, a former international AZA president and former BBYO DC Council president, lives in Bethesda and works as a lawyer representing Israeli companies. Kronowitz served as president of B’nai B’rith Girls in her hometown of Savannah, Ga., and now lives in Washington where she practices law at the D.C. law firm Gilbert LLP, of which she is a founder.
“It’s given me the opportunity to reflect on my time in BBYO,” Kronowitz, mother of two, said of the night’s event. The lessons they learned in BBYO about civic engagement and community building have shaped the way they live their lives today, they said. Plotkin also praised BBYO for its willingness to accept diversity and for its ability to give teenagers a blueprint for life.
“It teaches teens the value of pluralism because it’s a Jewish youth organization that welcomes people who are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Reconstructionist, and teaches them about civic duty and community service in a Jewish context,” he said. “It strengthens their commitment to Israel. I use a lot of the skills I learned as a leader in BBYO in advocating for Israel and advocating for clients in general.”
Kronowitz and Plotkin were both officially presented their awards during the dinner by last year’s honorees Bernie and Janyse Weisz, as was Nelson Migdal, a principal shareholder of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, who was honored with the Kol Echad Award for his work with BBYO.
Everyone involved with BBYO, from the adult board members to the teens, couldn’t deny that DC Council, which is one of the largest BBYO councils in North America, stands out.
“It’s a real convergence of the community,” BBYO executive director Matthew Grossman said. “Parents and leaders tell teens ‘you own this.’ The teens are given a great platform.”
Plotkin also pointed out that many who grew up in the DC Council have stayed in the area as local business and community leaders. Many DC Council alumni, now young adults, are also BBYO advisers, and were recognized at the event as well. Plotkin described the DC Council as having a “constant renewal through successive generations of participants.”
But does BBYO truly work in helping its members build their Jewish identities? In light of the Pew study results concerning Jewish identity, many involved with the organization believe that teens are at the perfect age.
“The Pew study is an opportunity,” said Estee Portnoy, the chair of the BBYO board of directors. “I think identity develops throughout the teenage years. BBYO gives teens a sense of pride. If we wait until their 20s, we’re going to lose them.”