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5.22.15 Issue

by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation of Omaha

Forget the buzzword “millennials”. It’s so yesterday. Enter Generation Z, defined as those born after 1994. They are digital natives; scooting, crawling and traveling in car seats with iPads, iPhones and Kindles in their hands.

They are technologically savvy, view the world through a global lens and assume unlimited access to information that automatically makes things move very fast.

According to Forester Research, Generation Z is the second largest demographic owning an iPhone. Being constantly “plugged in” makes them global information gatherers, and, hopefully, this gives today’s young people opportunities to better effect social change.

That is what’s happening locally, as Jewish Omaha teens use social media exclusively to meet, gather, plan events, and engage with each other on their own terms and in their own unique Jewish way.

Two of Omaha’s Gen Z’s, Elissa Wiener and Max Gendler, will be honored with the Robert and Ellen Gordman Jewish Teen Leadership Award at the Jewish Federation of Omaha’s Annual Meeting on Monday, June 1. The Federation and Gordman family recognized their activities and achievements, as well as their commitment to the Jewish community.

Both young adults are exceptional high school seniors selected based on the following characteristics that are indicators of leadership: ability to develop leadership among peers, ability to interest peers in group activities, acceptance of major responsibilities, program innovator, positive role model and organizational impact. Elissa and Max will each receive a $1,000 stipend to participate in a Jewish convention, conclave or summer camp or a recognized Israel experience. Their names will be engraved on a plaque permanently displayed in the JCC lobby.

Elissa has been a student at Beth El Synagogue since third grade. Active in youth group programs from BESTT Chaverim through High School and USY, she has held multiple positions including USY President. She is also a proud member of BBYO.

She was in charge of BESTT’s most important fundraiser, the Purim carnival, and when selected to go to “Song Leader Boot Camp”, a training program for young leaders, she returned to Beth El and immediately used her newfound skills in the classroom. Elissa developed programming for Shul-IN and the annual Shabbaton, a three-day weekend retreat. Elissa works with all age groups at the school and is considered a magnificent role model.

Elissa always volunteers to help younger students, and as such, has been an integral part of the Beth El Hebrew School. This year, she will co-teach a class of 15 third and fourth graders. She is the lead teacher for the Lifecycle events class and is in charge of preparing the annual 4th grade wedding ceremony. Elissa has participated for four years in Beth El’s Merit Scholarship program, volunteering hundreds of hours at the synagogue.

An honors student at Central High School, Elissa participates in Forensics Team, French Club and writes for the school newspaper. She will be attending the University of Minnesota this fall. Her parents are Audrey and Richard Wiener.

Max is a senior at Papillion-La Vista High School and has been active in the Mother Chapter of BBYO for four years, including serving five terms on the board and holding the following positions: chapter president, convention coordinator, and summer international program board member. In addition, he participated on numerous convention steering committees, planning and allocating resources for hundreds of regional programs and events.

Most recently, Max was co-coordinator for the regional spring convention held in Omaha. He planned and managed the steering committee for months leading up to the weekend. According to BBYO Director Rachel Martin, “Max continuously takes on responsibilities and is respected by his peers.”

Martin continued, “Gendler’s impact on BBYO is strengthened with each interaction he has with peers and staff. He has planned countless brotherhood, fundraising and recruitment programs.” Martin has no doubt that when given a task, Max not only sees it through to completion, but follows through on his commitments. “He is an invaluable asset to BBYO, and I know he will be sorely missed by his BBYO brothers,” Martin said.

Max is involved in tennis, baseball and track and field in high school. He also plays guitar and is an accomplished BBYO song leader. The son of Larry Gendler and Tami Field, Max will attend the University of Kansas in the fall to study architecture and business.

Please join us in honoring all our community award winners on June 1 at 7 p.m. in the JCC Theater. For more information, call 402.334.6428.