Family roots, a welcoming community— and a dash of serendipity.
These are all reasons why the Zorn family found themselves embarking on a memorable cross-country trip with two kids, two cats, two dogs, and two cars packed to the gills. Destination: Akron, Ohio.
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Julie Zorn grew up in Akron, “very involved in Jewish community.” Her father was a past president of Temple Israel, and she was in the youth group at that temple. Julie spent many hours at the Akron Jewish Center (now Shaw JCC) at day camp in the summer and school’s out programs.
But she hightailed it out of Ohio as a teen, eventually landing in Los Angeles in her 20s, where she met her husband Scott. At the time they met, Julie was working for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music and Scott for Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
Like Julie, Scott grew up in the JCC. “I did camp there, family events like Purim carnivals, sports… I loved it!” Scott says. “Jewish camping was everything to both Julie and me growing up.”
When expecting their first child, the Zorns moved to Tucson, Ariz. to be closer to Julie’s parents, David and Kathryn Unger, who had previously moved there from Akron. After working as a senior therapist for children and families for Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern Arizona, Scott became director of children, youth and camping at the Tucson JCC.
“Once I became a director in the program, I knew [the JCC] was the only place I wanted to be,” Scott says. He considers himself a career JCC professional. He participated in the Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship through the JCCA and has traveled to Israel three times through JCC initiatives. “I bring these experiences back to my profession,” he explains. In 2016, his work earned him a “Feddie” award for Jewish professional of the year in Tucson.
Julie employed her background in music (in particular Jewish music) in Tucson.
“There’re not a lot of Jewish song leaders in Tucson,” she notes. So she filled a niche, providing music for children’s programs.
In 2014, Julie became the Jewish living and learning specialist at the Tucson JCC, to apply a Jewish lens to all programming there. Wanting to add more context to her work, she enrolled in Hebrew College’s online program to pursue a master’s in Jewish education and a certificate in informal Jewish education. She’s currently completing her thesis.
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Forward to late 2016. The Zorns took a vacation to Akron. “We just had so much fun!” Julie says.
They stopped by the Shaw JCC out of curiosity. That’s where Scott learned that, coincidentally, the youth/camp director position had just opened up. The seed of opportunity was planted, and by January, the Zorns found themselves caravanning their family (daughter Haley, son Dylan, plus four pets) across the U.S. to Akron. Scott joined the Shaw JCC staff as the Program Director and Children/Youth/Camp Director.
“Scott is the perfect fit for the Shaw JCC not only for camp and youth programming but overall programming as well,” Michael Neumann, executive director of the Shaw JCC says. “His diverse knowledge and experience at the Tucson JCC will help drive creative programming for the entire membership.”
People questioned their move from the warm temperatures of Arizona to the more seasonal Ohio. But “I’m actually coming here for the warmth,” Scott explains.
Julie adds: “It’s so warm and so inviting. The temps may dip below zero, but it’s so welcoming here… We’re so excited to be here. We’re excited for our kids to be raised here.”
In addition, “the Passport Program has enabled us to be members of all synagogues,” Scott says. “It’s so special for a new family—to discover what’s available.”
“In my opinion, [the Akron Jewish community] is on the cutting edge on becoming more vibrant again,” Julie notes. She thinks it will attract even more people to the area and community.
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Meanwhile, the Zorns will be adding to that vibrancy. They exude excitement about building community. “Our love and our passion is engaging an entire community,” Julie says.
In his role, Scott will be involved in many aspects of programming, including, of course, camp.
“Camp makes memories forever,” Scott says. “And it’s a year-round experience —school’s day out, Saturday night at the J…Camp can be a year-round feeling.”
It’s important to him to apply a Jewish lens to the camp experience— as well as other programming. Scott aims to provide the opportunity for growth and fun, while teaching Jewish values like tzedakah and tikkun olam, which are really universal values as well.
Julie is on the same page: “The idea of reaching entire community with Jewish values, ethical ways of leading your life—it’s inspiring. It’s what drives me and my husband.”
“Judaism should be a celebration and joyful,” she adds. “If there’s anything I can share with this community, it’s that feeling of celebration.”