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Jewish Journal

Leadership from left to right: Ori Brian

by Leslee Komaiko

June 11, 2014 | 12:32 pm

West Ranch High School
Going to: University of Chicago

When some 700 Jewish young people gather in Atlanta this December for the annual United Synagogue Youth (USY) International Convention, Ori Brian and his Boston-based co-chair will be responsible for planning all five days of programming. 

“We want to make sure we have a really engaging social action project and great discussions,” said Brian, of West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita.

Brian is especially keen on this year’s theme: Love your neighbor as yourself. Although he didn’t have a direct role in choosing it, the theme is one that resonates strongly with him.

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

“I’ve been openly gay for half a year,” he explained. “I’m excited that part of the educational focus will be on issues related to the LGBT community.”

Brian first became involved with USY — home to some of the first friends he confided in when he came out — following his bar mitzvah. 

“I decided not to continue my formal Jewish education because of other extracurricular activities. The deal I made with my mom was I would do USY instead,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever been forced into. It has allowed me to grow as a social activist, an Israel activist and a committed Jew. I think I’m still so involved because I want to be able to give other Conservative Jewish teenagers a similarly engaging experience and friends.”

In addition to co-chairing this year’s convention, Brian co-chaired Far West on Wheels, an 18-day bus tour of the Southwest for USY teens. And he has contributed his artistic skills to the organization, creating a logo for a regional convention as well as multiple T-shirt designs.

“I really enjoy graphic design,” Brian said. He also likes to doodle. In fact, one of his college essays was about doodling, and yes, included actual doodles.

At his high school, Brian served as secretary of the associated student body as well as commissioner, helping to plan the pep rallies. He helped chair the homecoming celebration and created an app allowing parents and students to access student grades and activities. And as a sophomore, he and a friend started what they called “Open Mic Club,” lunchtime gatherings that took place in a classroom several times each school year.

“We founded it as a place for students to be able to express themselves in poetry, music,
art — however they wanted to,” Brian said.

Brian plans to attend the University of Chicago, but not until fall 2015. This summer, he will be part of the program staff at Camp Ramah in California. After that, he has loose plans. These include starting a job search, a potential trip to Israel and, at the very least, a little breathing room.

“So much of my day-to-day life is meticulously planned,” he said.

Ron Ippolito, a history teacher at West Ranch, has interacted with Brian in a number of settings, including as his AP history instructor. 

“Not only did he work really hard in his studies, he would also frequently volunteer with no extra incentive,” he said of Brian. “He’s so creative. I’ve never quite encountered a student like him, a kid who so easily crosses over from left brain to right brain, transitioning between the two.”

He described Brian as someone able to set himself apart in other ways, too.

“Not only did I see that in his notes and in his work. … Also, I would go into a pep rally in the gym and see these magnificent posters and I would know, that’s Ori’s work,” he said. “It has Ori’s stamp on it.”

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