Earlier this week, I attended the JCC Association of North America’s Biennial in Memphis, Tennessee. The conference was amazing. I got to meet some incredible people, attend thought-provoking and inspiring plenaries, and enjoy the company of several JCC Board members.

My favorite session featured Dr. David Bryfman, who is the Chief Innovation Officer for the Jewish Education Project. The Jewish Education Project’s mission is to spark and spread innovations that expand the reach and increase the impact of Jewish education.

Dr. Bryfman posed a very interesting question to the group: If we were to start our JCCs today from scratch, would we build them the same way we did so many years ago?  When many JCCs were originally built the purpose behind their existence, in part, was to help Jewish immigrants learn how to live like Americans. Now, JCCs have a very different purpose. JCCs of today are tasked with creating a space for people to live Jewishly.

And no generation is more critical to the future of JCCs than Generation Z, which consists of people born between approximately 1995 and 2012. After all, they are our future. So it is essential that we understand their needs and shape our Jewish future accordingly. In an attempt to do just that, 18,000 Jewish Gen Z were recently surveyed. Dr. Bryfman shared the results of the study with us, and some were very surprising.

For one, Gen Z is the most connected generation. With apps, social media, and texting as their main source of communication, they have 24/7 access to the outside world. However, surprisingly, they are also the loneliest generation. Why? Because their communication predominately takes place via phone or computer, and their connections to one another may not be as rich and authentic as the connections those of us considered Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials share with one another.

Gen Z tends to be more spiritual than religious. And they believe in universalization, but they also are tribal. They want to be engaged, and feel like they are part of a group. They also tend to have more cohesion than rebellion in their families.

So what does all of this tell us? Well, I believe it tells us that there is plenty of opportunity to engage this young generation ~we just need to find the right way in which to do so. We must be willing to change course and adapt to create a new “town hall” for these youth and young adults.

On a personal note, my old college roommate lives in south Florida with her sister, brother-in-law and niece, Saralyn. Saralyn is part of Gen Z. When the Parkland shooting happened, Saralyn helped to mobilize a sit-in and march. She asked that the adults in the community be supportive, but did not require them to be involved in the planning process. Saralyn also participated in a national webinar with Dr. David Bryfman to discuss the Parkland tragedy and how Jewish institutions can support students. Saralyn credits her leadership skills to her experience as a leader of BBYO.

When I hear stories such as this, it reconfirms that although our process may change over time, what we do is still very important. Our future is very bright!




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