By Matthew Levine
(AJNews) – On August 1, Malvina Rapko became the newest director for the Northwest Canada region of BBYO. It was a milestone event because although the region encompasses both Alberta and Saskatchewan, she is the first ever director to come from Saskatchewan.
BBYO is a place where Jewish teens develop leadership skills, establish lifelong friendships, advocate for causes they care about and find meaning in their Jewish heritage.
Malvina’s family came to Saskatchewan as Soviet Jews when she was just an infant. She attended BBYO from grades eight to twelve serving in multiple positions on the city and regional board. After her time in BBYO she became an advisor for a few years and looks on the whole experience as an important and meaningful part of her adolescence.
Historically, Saskatoon had a presence in the Northwest Canada region but had since lost its way. Regina, on the other hand, has not had any BBYO teen programs in a very long time. Malvina came on as Saskatoon’s city director in 2020 to help reinvigorate BBYO for Jewish teens in Saskatchewan. She is now enthusiastic about expanding her role to the entire region.
According to Malvina, Alberta played a big role in her Jewish upbringing. She attended Camp BB-Riback for nine years and formulated many friendships and connections in both Edmonton and Calgary. These connections have helped broaden her understanding of the whole region.
Malvina is enthusiastic about rebuilding chapter identity and teen participation across the region. She is planning to use the chapter building skills that she’s developed in Saskatchewan to also strengthen BBYO in Edmonton and Calgary.
The new director is highlighting the importance of welcoming Jewish people from all different levels of religious affiliation to BBYO.
“BBYO is really for all types of Jewish teens, people who are more observant or others who don’t feel connected to Judaism,” she said, “Doing what I can to make these connections and be a part of all aspects of communities is a focus of mine.”
She also supports BBYO’s inclusivity through the creation of an environment where teens feel empowered and have opportunities to gain various leadership skills based on their unique interests and personalities. For generations, many teens have felt like they do not fit in because of their differences – they feel like they are on the outside. Malvina wishes to combat this by making BBYO a place for all types of people, and by working to enhance their individuality within the organization.
Another reason teens might feel unwelcome is because of previously formed friend groups that newcomers are not a part of. Edmonton and Calgary’s Jewish youth that attend BBYO usually know each other well through Talmud Torah, CJA, HAA or Camp BB-Riback. Malvina explained that in Saskatoon the majority of BBYO teens go to different schools and do not know each other outside of BBYO. Through her work as the city supervisor, she was able to facilitate Saskatoon teens to attend regional conventions for the first time in years. This allowed the kids without friend groups to meet people from Alberta and make larger groups. She believes it is important that everybody has somebody and she has seen firsthand that larger groups are there for everyone to find support systems.
Since 2021, Malvina’s hard work has resulted in 4-8 teens from Saskatchewan attending each regional convention. This past year, regional conventions have had seventy to ninety total attendees, and two spots on the AZA regional board are held by people from Saskatoon’s chapter. Malvina continues to work on improving the connection between Alberta and Saskatchewan but is also working on building the bond with other regions in Canada. She is planning to host a convention that brings Manitoba and Alberta teens to Saskatchewan next year. She is also hoping to plan something for the future with BBYO regions in British Colombia.
Malvina is excited to continue working on our region’s future, but feels it is important to acknowledge and appreciate past teams and directors that have shaped BBYO into what it is today. “It’s important to recognize that the team that was there before me built something that I am going to be adding to,” she explained. “They have helped me reconnect with what’s going on in Alberta and have provided me with preexisting knowledge that I can build on.”
Matthew Levine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.