Focus on Families | Local

Family, music and heritage harmonize for JCC Jewish cultural specialist

(L-R): Scott, Haley, Julie and Dylan Zorn on a family vacation in Lake Tahoe in February 2013
(L-R): Scott, Haley, Julie and Dylan Zorn on a family vacation in Lake Tahoe in February 2013

Even though her full-time position as Jewish cultural specialist at the Tucson Jewish Community Center doesn’t begin until Jan. 6, Julie Zorn has been a familiar face at the JCC for almost a decade. Her husband, Scott Zorn, is the director of children, youth and family engagement; her children (Haley, 9 and Dylan, 7) have grown up in the care of the JCC preschool, after-school and summer camp programs; and Zorn herself has taught music to JCC preschoolers and campers.

In her new position, Zorn is excited to work with all of the departments at the JCC as an educational resource. “It is the biggest honor to be asked to do this job,” said Zorn. “I love the idea of continuing to teach the community. It’s about more than just educating children; it’s about bringing Jewish feeling and identity to every part of the JCC.” On working with her husband, Zorn can’t wait to get started.

“Scott has an incredible program that has been going on for years, and I’m excited to help in any way I can.”

Zorn grew up in Akron, Ohio, and credits her parents, David and Kathryn Unger of Tucson, with shaping her Jewish identity from an early age. She fondly remembers her time at Temple Israel, where her father served as congregation president. “We would rush to eat dinner on Friday nights so we could get to services. I was in the youth group. I went to Jewish summer camp.” Her time at summer camp was “the single most important Jewish influencing event” in her life, says Zorn, who taught herself to play guitar so that she could carry the camp feeling she loved throughout the rest of the year.

In the early ’90s, as a student at the University of Arizona, Zorn worked for the JCC as a music specialist. “I wasn’t very Jewishly involved during college. I think college is a time when you explore who you are, and I was in a rock band. Working at the JCC was my Jewish connection.” After college, Zorn continued her JCC career at the West Valley JCC in Los Angeles. After spending some time working at Camp JCA Shalom, Zorn eventually found a job that she loved at the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, an initiative of the Milken Family Foundation. “I loved my job at the Milken Archive. It was an amazing experience, and I couldn’t imagine even taking time off after my daughter was born, but my heart has always been with the JCC system.” When Scott found a job in Tucson as a counselor at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, being close to her parents and being able to find affordable childcare made the move worthwhile.

Along with the JCC, Zorn has taught music at several local schools, religious and secular, including eight years at Congregation Anshei Israel’s preschool. She expresses her passion for music education in her blog, the Tucson Songstress (www.tucson “I write daily and provide my readers with a ‘song of the day’ as well as musical lessons for parents to try at home with their children — my answer to music education being cut in public schools.”

She’ll continue to teach music for the JCC preschool and Camp J and looks forward to bringing Jewish music to other departments. She’s also started a JCC blog, “Shabbat Schmoozings.”

When Zorn speaks about the JCC, it is easy to see that her love runs deep. “There are all sorts of people at the JCC. Families involved in congregational life, unaffiliated families, and even non-Jewish members are all welcome. It’s a happy, neutral place where we get to be Jewish and embrace our Judaism.” Understanding that the JCC serves people of all backgrounds is helping Zorn enhance her work. “There are Jewish principles and values that go beyond religion. Being kind and compassionate is something everyone can relate to. The JCC should be a home away from home, and I get to help make it a Jewish one.”

Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.