South Bay teen spends gap year as BBYO world ambassador

He’s a global jet-setter — often in an airport, preparing to fly all over the world as part of his job. But Oz Fishman is not a wealthy businessman or CEO: He’s a 17-year-old from Sunnyvale who’s devoted to strengthening his Jewish youth group.

As one of two international teen presidents of BBYO, Fishman’s duties require him to take a year off between high school and college and spend that time visiting BBYO chapters worldwide, helping them to strategize how to recruit new members as well as planning events and programs. During his tenure, “I’ll be visiting around 50 U.S. cities and seven or so countries,” he said.

A member of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, Fishman joined BBYO and became a part of the Ramon AZA chapter because he and his Israeli-American family were seeking a pluralistic Jewish community.

photo | courtesy of bbyo BBYO international teen presidents Oz Fishman of Sunnyvale and Samantha Levinson of Fairfax, Va., visit the White House in May.

Fishman, who attended De Anza Middle College, quickly rose through the ranks of BBYO youth leadership and in February was elected to a one-year term as the Grand Aleph Godol, or international president. Besides traveling the globe, Fishman also works with BBYO’s adult board of directors on issues ranging from developing Israel awareness to increasing group membership.

Helping in that effort is another Bay Area teen leader, Grant Fineman, 17, of Burlingame. He is Grand Aleph Moreh, in charge of membership. Entering his senior year at Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, Fineman dedicates about 10 to 15 hours each week communicating about membership initiatives with his counterparts at the regional and chapter levels. “I’ve learned a lot in BBYO and made a lot of friends,” said Fineman, a member of the AZA chapter Machar. “It’s been life-changing.”

Fishman, who had to defer his first year of college, notes that his sacrifice and hard work come with some rewards. In May, he attended a reception at the White House with the other BBYO international teen president, Samantha Levinson, as part of American Jewish Heritage Month. They and other Jewish youth group leaders met VIPs such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who helped to establish American Jewish Heritage Month.

The most amazing moment for Fishman was when he met President Barack Obama. “We got to shake hands … which was really exciting,” he said.

After his term as Grand Aleph Godol ends next summer, Fishman will enter U.C. Santa Cruz in fall 2012. He plans to remain active in BBYO’S friends and alumni organization, as well as connect with Jewish groups on campus, such as Hillel and the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. “I want to be engaging as many people as I possibly can,” he said.

Before he can plan out college, though, Fishman will be busy fulfilling his duties in BBYO. He has an executives conference in August, followed by trips to Atlanta, the U.K., Ireland, Bulgaria and many more locations. “I’m traveling the world to help grow BBYO chapters,” he said. “It’s great.”