New youth leader brings broad experience to JEWISHcolorado

May 20, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

When Zachary Zimmermann earned a degree in Journalism with a focus on advertising, he thought he would pursue a career in the creative world of marketing.

Ultimately, his best sales pitch may have been to Zachary Zimmermann, when he persuaded himself to trust his instincts where they took him—to Israel, to a career in education, to mentoring young people on their Jewish journey.

Now, after a stint teaching and coaching middle and high school students, after spending time at a yeshiva in Israel, after serving as a madrich (youth leader) and young adult leader for Yallah! Israel, he has landed as JEWISHcolorado’s new Teen Engagement Manager, working with Jewish Student Connection (JSC) clubs during the school year and accompanying teens on the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour (IST) in the summer. It’s a position that is an excellent fit for him and for JEWISHcolorado.

“I didn’t appreciate it fully when I applied, but I have really entered a community at JEWISHcolorado,” Zimmermann says. “This is not just four weeks with a group of teens and then you say good-bye. This is a chance to create connections before we go to Israel and then the opportunity to see how teens can flex their new experiences with Jewish identity and leadership for a year after they come home.”

Finding ‘something that was more me’

Zimmermann graduated from the University of Wisconsin just six years ago, but already his life has been upended by two events with global implications—the COVID pandemic and October 7.

After graduating from college, he followed in the footsteps of many young Jewish adults by signing up for an internship with Masa Israel Journey. He worked in a Tel Aviv boutique ad agency with local Israeli entrepreneurs, helping kickstart businesses through crowdfunding. His research, development, and scriptwriting led to a $1 million success story for one campaign, but it didn’t bring the sense of professional satisfaction he sought.

“I would get on the bus to commute every day in my favorite country in the world with a great opportunity to learn so much,” he says. “But it didn’t excite me.”

Six weeks of study in a Jerusalem yeshiva had only served to reinforce the gap between his Jewish values and what felt were the more “mundane” motives of the advertising world. Still, when he returned to the U.S. and had a chance to work as an independent contractor at the headquarters of Harley Davidson, he jumped at the chance. Eight months later, COVID-19 hit, and as a junior independent contractor, he was one of the first to lose his job.

“There was a lot of mourning and grieving because you are begging the world to give you a job out of college,” he recalls. “But it was also an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and find what I really did want to do, something that was more ‘me’.”

Zimmermann had always enjoyed working with young people, so he took a job teaching music and computer science at a private high school in Madison, Wisconsin. That position led him to AmeriCorps City-Year where he was a Team Leader in East Harlem, New York, supervising 15 AmeriCorps student coaches. His life fell into a rhythm. He would work in the U.S. during the academic year, and then in the summer, he joined Yallah! Israel, serving as a guide and educator on a bus of 40 Jewish teens from around the U.S. After two summers in that role, he spent the next summer as a Unit Head, overseeing the supervision of more than 100 teens traveling throughout Israel.

When he returned to the U.S., Zimmermann stepped off the A train in New York and had an “aha moment.” He looked around and said to himself. “New York is not my home. What am I doing here?” He began the process to make Aliyah. And then, within six weeks, October 7 happened.

‘I am proud to be part of this group’

Zimmermann attended public schools, but his educators came from Chabad and instilled in him a deep passion for the more spiritual side of Judaism as well as the skills to pursue Jewish study.

Were it not for the uncertain political climate in Israel, Zimmermann might be living there now. Instead, October 7 disrupted his plans and prompted him to seek a permanent position in Jewish education. With his experience living in Israel, coordinating travel, and mentoring teens, he brings a wealth of talent to JEWISHcolorado’s Teen Engagement Manager position.

Zachary Zimmerman and IST 2024 group

He is also looking forward to this summer’s IST trip for what it will offer him. It will be the first time he has been to Poland, the home of his paternal grandfather who sold motorcycle parts before the war in Lublin, one of the towns that IST will visit. His grandfather was a laborer building barracks in many camps around Europe before his liberation.

Zimmermann and his siblings are first-generation Americans. His father came to America from Austria, and his mother’s family were refugees from Moscow, arriving in the United States in the mid-1980s.

“Much of my family’s history is marked by Jewish persecution, and going to Poland feels meaningful to me as a way to explore my own family’s history,” he says. “But I also want to understand the Jewish people’s story of European persecution. What was life like before the Holocaust? I want to see how the deaths were so devastating because of all the cultural life that was destroyed—the great houses of worship and study, the communal gatherings, whole neighborhoods teeming with Jewish life. I am eager to explore this together with our delegation of teens from this very vibrant Colorado Jewish community. I am proud to be part of this group.”