Zack Bodner’s ‘Why Do Jewish’
Photo: Courtesy Oshman Family JCC
Zack Bodner at the Oshman Family JCC’s Z3–Zionism 3.0 Conference in 2018

JCC BookFest Feb. 21 will feature his ‘Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood’

By Deb Silverthorn

“Why Do Jewish: A Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood” will be shared by author Zack Bodner at the Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Aaron Family JCC. The J partners with Central Market to present BookFest, which is open to the public. This event is free of charge.

Rather than asking “Why be Jewish,” Bodner’s book pushes the reader to ask, “Why do Jewish?” His goal is to provide a road map for how to do Jewish in the 21st century. Insisting that taking action is what matters most, he proposes creating a new framework for doing Jewish based on an acronym from the Yiddish word TACHLIS, which means “getting down to brass tacks.”

“T, tikkun olam or repairing the world; A, art and culture; C, Community; H, holidays and rituals; L, learning; I, Israel; and S for Shabbat and spirituality,” he says, “are all aspects of life we can be a part of no matter our age, place in life, observance level or affiliation. It’s for each Jew to figure where they fit in. I just hope everyone does find their place,” said Bodner.

“My life’s work is wrapped in the pages of this book — of what I hope for our people, for my people — not just a narrative but a true ‘how to’ and what can we do to keep us going,” explained Bodner.

“There are no ‘less than’ Jews. Be a Jew and then take yourself deeper with a mind open to possibilities. Jewish life needs to be accessible, relevant and filled with joy — that is the future of Judaism,” said the author, CEO at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California.

A native of Claremont, California, Bodner is the son of Myrna and the late Paul and brother to Gabe. He was raised at Temple Beth Israel and his family led a mostly culturally Jewish life. He attended religious school until his bar mitzvah but then chose soccer over confirmation. His first trip to Israel was on the 1989 Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Ulpan tour.

He graduated from Yale University, but it was during his junior year abroad at Hebrew University that he met and fell in love with the U.S.-born Ronit Alcheck. There, at the height of the Oslo peace accords and during his senior year at Yale, he realized how important a Jewish connection was for himself. He returned to Israel in 1994 and 1995 as a counselor on the Ulpan program he had participated in.

In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Yale in the psychology of religion, he holds a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and theology from Claremont Graduate University.

Prior to moving to Palo Alto, he was Pacific Northwest regional director of AIPAC and, before that, teen leader in the Los Angeles area for a corps of five JCCs.

At the Oshman Family JCC, he created the Center for Social Impact, which is committed to helping repair the world through initiatives that address poverty, disaster relief, racial justice, civic responsibility and more. He oversaw the launch of the Taube Center for Jewish Peoplehood, which hosts the Architects of the Jewish Future series and the Kol Isha women’s leadership program; with his team, he developed the annual Zionism 3.0 conference, The Z3 Project, a global effort to reimagine Diaspora-Israel relations.

“We want a Jewish peoplehood for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren,” said Bodner, “but first we have to realize how it is relevant to me — whomever the ‘me’ is, each person, at whatever age.”

Bodner and his wife are the parents of Talia, Elie and Orly. Congregations Etz Chayim and Kol Emeth are where prayer and community come together for the family.

“The pandemic has had us all ‘doing Jewish’ differently. For our family, the simcha of our son Elie’s bar mitzvah came in May 2020. Rather than what was planned, we had 300 people on Zoom while he not only read Torah, but led the full service from our kitchen,” said the proud father. “It was in the beginning, with only a few congregations doing services that way; by the High Holidays it was almost everywhere. We have to be relevant; we have to continue the joy.”

Bodner, who has been published in The Forward, Times of Israel, J Weekly and eJewish Philanthropy, is an Amitim Fellow for JCC Global, is a member of the board of  directors of the JCC Association of North America and is on the advisory board of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford University.

“Zack Bodner is a pied piper in our field with his Jewish spirit and how he shares all the goodness we are as a people. He is absolutely a special leader in the JCC world and his book and the ideas he shares cover the map. There is something for everybody to grow from and appreciate,” said Aaron Family JCC CEO Artie Allen.

“Zack’s ideas are incredible, and we are thrilled to have this really wonderful Jewish professional to share his very important message,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, the J’s director of Israel engagement and Jewish living and BookFest producer. “‘Why Do Jewish’ is so much about all we do and have here at the J.”

For more information, or to RSVP for the Feb. 21 event, visit

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