Youthful Denver native heads BBYO international

Jeremy Gelman is not a college dropout. Neither is the 18-year-old Denver native a college drop-in. At least, not yet.

Though already admitted to the University of Colorado, Gelman has put off his freshman year so he could spend the next 12 months serving as international president of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a pluralistic Jewish teen youth group. The Central West Regional headquarters, serving the entire Bay Area, is located in San Mateo.

Elected last year by 600 teenaged peers at the annual BBYO convention, Gelman assumed the presidency this summer. But this is no ceremonial post. It involves constant travel, not only across North America, but overseas as well. Upcoming ports of call include England, France, Israel and Bulgaria.


“We have an exchange program with Bulgaria,” says Gelman, who swept into the Bay Area recently as part of his latest multi-city tour. “Judaism is starting to come back there. We have BBYO kids collect Judaica and share with Jewish Bulgarians.”

Gelman is well-versed on all things BBYO. The group has been around for decades and today is truly international. But for Gelman, BBYO has always been personal.

His parents are both BBYO alumni, as are his two older brothers. Gelman himself first joined in eighth grade, and says it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I had so much fun in BBYO when I was younger,” he says. “In high school you wonder, ‘How can I find my niche?’ Whatever you want, BBYO will give it to you.”

Gelman says BBYO provided a setting for socializing, having fun and reinforcing his already strong Jewish identity. Now he wants to offer those same benefits to other Jewish teens.

Although he has served in other top posts for the organization, the presidency was a very different proposition. It meant deferring college and spending most nights sleeping in hotels or in the guest bedrooms of BBYO families around the world.

“My parents said, ‘When could you do this again?'” recalls Gelman. “Once I had the epiphany that I could do this, I knew I was the best man for the job. I ran against four other kids, gave speeches. It was very intense.”

When Gelman comes into a town, he meets with BBYO chapter members, leaders and adult supervisors. His job is to listen to their concerns and help them solve problems. He says his input is taken seriously. “I keep tabs on 45 regional presidents,” he notes. “They’re on my speed dial. We’re youth-led, and the programming ideas we have are initiated by members.”

Gelman’s main goals for his term are to expand worldwide membership to 18,000 (up from 15,600 now) and to mobilize BBYO participation for Israeli relief efforts in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s AMEN initiative.

He’s also excited about BBYO’s leadership programs, as well as the new BBYO Web site,, which gives thousands of teens access to message boards, college admissions info, Jewish tzedakah projects and more.

This Bay Area stop is part of a current West Coast swing, which includes Boise, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. And Gelman has high praise for the Bay Area’s BBYO chapter.

“It’s one of the best in the organization,” he says, “and one of the fastest growing. I’m here to see one of the best regions at work.”

And after his term is up? It’s off to Boulder for his college studies. At this point he isn’t sure which career direction to follow. Political science, public policy and Jewish studies are three early


For now, life on the road is plenty sweet. And for the young president, each day brings new discoveries. Says Gelman of one of California’s prime cultural glories: “I just had my first In-N-Out Burger.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.