Embracing Video Games to Engage Jewish Teens

If community organizers have been using athletics to engage Jewish youth for decades, why not adapt with the times and try electronic sports, i.e., video games? That was Lenny Silberman’s thinking in creating the nonprofit Lost Tribe Esports.

Esports—video games that simulate competitive sports—“can be a gateway to the Jewish experience,” said Silberman. “The more the context in which teens play is Jewish, the more deeply Jewish the experience becomes.”

Teen gamers gathered at the BBYO convention earlier this year in Denver.

Silberman launched Lost Tribe at the BBYO convention in Denver and at the JCC Maccabi Games in Atlanta, both held earlier this year. His events featured 21-station gaming centers where the teen athletes played Madden NFL 19, NBA 2K19 and other popular games during breaks in competition.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has named Lost Tribe a grantee of JumpSpark, its youth initiative, and is sponsoring two in-person and six virtual tournaments throughout the fall and early winter. Noting that girls engage in teen programs at a much higher rate than boys, Kelly Cohen, director of JumpSpark, credited Lost Tribe for its appeal to boys, who make up the majority of players at its events.

Lost Tribe is also hosting virtual tournaments for JCCs across the country that participated in the Maccabi games. Meanwhile, the Foundation for Jewish Camp is looking to partner with Lost Tribe to connect campers after they return home.