Episode 66: Jewish? Community? Center? - Zack Bodner


Zack Bodner, CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, joins Dan and Lex in our Silicon Valley series to explore the shifting role of Jewish Community Centers, possibilities for a "Judaism 4.0," and what special role a JCC in the heart of the experimental and entrepreneurial landscape of Silicon Valley might play in playing with the possibilities. [1]

(0:01 - 11:11): To begin the episode, Bodner examines a frame that he and Dan share, but came to independently: "Judaism 4.0." [2] Bodner talks about the ways in which the missions of Jewish Community Centers shifted from "teaching Jews how to be Americans" to "teaching Americans how to be Jews." He also discusses the extent to which Orthodox Judaism has "cornered the market" on public displays of Jewish identity, opening up a broader conversation about whether the best course of action for non-Orthodox Jews is to re-vision existing Jewish ritual practices, create their own practices, or some combination of both. [3]

(11:12 - 26:29): Bodner extends our conversation from recent episodes regarding the democratization of society made possible by the internet, along with how that shift could apply to contemporary Judaism. He then introduces five key factors that he sees as primary drivers of change in the Jewish world today, citing (1) the shift away from institutional affiliation, (2) digital technology, (3) ethnographic changes, (4) new forms of meaning and belonging, and (5) the unprecedented, simultaneous existence of both a Jewish state and a strong Jewish diaspora. He then explores the dichotomies of individual and community, being Jewish and "doing Jewish," [4] and gives a window into the ways in which JCCs can prove meaningful not only for Jews, but also for people of other backgrounds as well. [5]

(26:30 - 47:04): Bodner looks at elements of the Silicon Valley experience that provide unique opportunities and challenges, when compared to JCCs in other communities around the country. To close the episode, Bodner turns the tables on Dan and Lex, asking them what they see as the primary problem that Judaism Unbound exists to address. In conclusion, Bodner tells the Talmudic story of Yohanan Ben Zakai, [6] applying it to the 21st century landscape of Jewish life. 

[1] To learn more about Zack Bodner, you can read his bio, available at this link.

Image Credit: Imgrum.org

Image Credit: Imgrum.org

[2] Learn more about Dan's framing of Judaism 4.0 by reading his 2012 article, featured in Zeek. Read the Oshman Family JCC's "manifesto," which culminates in a call for Judaism 4.0, by clicking here.

[3] Lex mentions two articles he wrote for New Voices magazine on the topic of Jewish ritual practice. Read his case for wearing a yarmulke through the article "Why Are There Pringles On My Head?" and check out "On Scruffy Beards and Their Spiritual Significance," on growing a beard during the Omer period, by clicking here.

[4] Zack Bodner cites Mordechai Kaplan's trifecta of belonging, behaving, and believing. Learn more about that framework through Patti Haskell's short essay, "Belonging, Behaving, and Believing: Exploring Reconstructionist Process."

[5] For an article about the trend towards increased non-Jewish involvement in Jewish Community Centers, read this article by Anthony Weiss, entitled "Jewish Community Centers Open Their Doors to Wider Audiences,"

[6] For the Talmudic account of Yohanan ben Zakai's request for "Yavneh and Its Sages," in English translation, click here