Legacy Organizations and Brick and Mortar Institutions Could be More Relevant Today Than in the Past 40 Years

Recently, a rabbi from a large established synagogue sent us an email, and he asked, “Could you create something in our building? Our pews are empty of young people.”

We wish this was the only email like this we’ve received recently…

By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D. & Rabbi Adam Grossman

Amazon, Netflix, and AirBnB have shifted the way we understand “brick-and-mortar” organizations and seek experiences. To be relevant in today’s market, we must adapt to these changes. However, the idea that legacy organizations and brick and mortar institutions are destined for extinction, or do not add value, is misguided. Many peers, who engage tens of thousands of Millennial, Generation X, and Generation Z Jews, believe legacy organizations and brick and mortar institutions can be engaging. Unfortunately, in their current form, they lack significant and meaningful collaboration and a community of reciprocity in which we can all advance with our strengths and strengthen each other.

Taking a page from our collective history

No matter the time or place, Jews have served as social innovators working to engage the unengaged, disenfranchised, and disconnected. At one time, synagogues, Jewish community centers, and other legacy organizations were the cornerstone of the Jewish community. They housed the Jewish social entrepreneurs and were the cutting-edge for Jews and Jewish life on the fringe. However, times have changed. Currently, most Jewish brick and mortar institutions are struggling with understanding, innovating, and providing what is relevant for the next generation. As a result, fewer and fewer Jews are engaging with these institutions in a meaningful way. However, not all hope is lost.

Over the last 15 years, new organizations and dynamic Jewish leaders have been empowered through innovative initiatives such as the Charles and Lynn Schusterman’s ROI Community and Upstart, to build engagement pathways beyond legacy organizations. This risk taking is at the core of our Jewish collective history:

  • When it came to Abraham establishing the land of Israel, he left his home…
  • When it came to building the Mishkan, a young Bezalel arose…
  • When it came to the crossing the Red Sea, Nachshon dove in…
  • When it came to ensuring American Jews continued to learn about Judaism, Rebecca Gratz’s efforts established a movement…
  • And when it came to engaging millions with a platform that connected humanity globally, Mark Zuckerberg emerged.

The question is: “How can we, todays Jewish innovators, brick and mortars, and legacy organizations work together to strengthen todays institutions to drive Jewish innovation forward?

The 3Ps: People, Philanthropy, and Partnership

The concept of three is a key component to Jewish wisdom. As Pirke Avot testifies, “Al Shlosha Dvarim, the world stands on three things – on Torah (people), on service (partnering and working together), on acts of kindness (philanthropy).” This simple dictum can be used to build a model that encourages legacy organizations and social entrepreneurs to partner to serve our multifaceted communities.


People are the core of Jewish life. Without them, there is no need for Judaism. Legacy organizations and brick and mortar institutions engage different yet overlapping populations. We, as startups, would love to work with many of the philanthropists involved with legacy organizations, and we would love for the the young adults whom we engage to become involved with your legacy organizations. We would love to see those whom we engage in the “pews” of your synogogue.


One of the strengths of brick and mortar institutions is that they have a long-standing relationship with individuals in the 60+ age range, many of whom have significant financial resources and would like to see more young people engaged in the institutions important to them. Unfortunately, their resources are siloed into the synagogue or other legacy institutions. Social entrepreneurs would love to have access to these individuals to both inspire and engage with our innovations. Alas, since many of these individuals are risk averse or comfortable in their institutions, the conversation is a non-starter because they are so attached to their institutions, even to their own detriment. Imagine if these individuals were inspired to give to innovation within your structures and effectively engage the audience they wish were present.

In addition, larger institutional funders value collaboration. Funders of innovation would like to see cohesive Jewish communities.


Both legacy organizations and startups have strengths and weaknesses. Legacy organizations struggle to connect with individuals outside the traditional Jewish framework. Startups struggle with administration needs, such as accounting, human resources, legal, office space, and engaging established community members, etc.

As we know, an age-old challenge of the Jewish people is our stiff-neckedness and division. Here is an opportunity to unite.

Coming Together

We propose a new idea of strengthening communities holistically through the 3P Model. We each bring our own unique values to the table. Imagine a convening of Jewish innovators and brick and mortar/legacy organizations coming together to explore and design collaborative pathways of engagement based upon the three pillars of People, Philanthropy, and Partnership.

Hinay Mah Tovu: A 3P MAKERS EVENT (what we propose)

54 people: 18 leading social innovators, 18 legacy or brick and mortar institutional leaders, and a select group of funders or lay leaders.

3 days – identify problems, building teams, coming up with solutions, building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and presenting to a panel of funders with funding opportunities to support these endeavors.

Call to Action

Comment below, and/or complete the interest form if you would like to embark upon this ambitious endeavor.

Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D., is the co-founder of Career Up Now and believes that the strength of the Jewish people is our communities. He is a Birthright Israel Fellow, Upstart alumnus, Eli Talk Fellow, and a member of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman ROI Community.

Rabbi Adam Grossman, who is a Slingshot Guide Award recipient and member of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders network, is the CEO of the University of Florida Hillel, co-founder of the Selling Factory and co-founder of Career Up Now.

Bradley and Adam co-authored 48 Sensibilities for Professional Success, speak nationally, and help for and nonprofits exceed their goals.