I recently took my first visit to the Coca-Cola world headquarters in Midtown. After living here for a year and a half, I now feel like an official Atlantan.
On the surface, the Coca-Cola HQ seems like a stable, fun, fairly posh place to work. As you might imagine, there are unlimited free soft drinks and Coke Freestyle machines on nearly every corridor. There are a dozen food hubs in the cafeteria, along with a pool table and an Xbox in the staff lounge.
However, as you travel through the headquarters, what you discover, if you’ll forgive the pun, is that Coca-Cola is doing anything but “coastering.” Rather, like all American institutions living in the 21st century, it seems that even the great Coca-Cola finds itself in the middle of a paradigm shift.
Over the past few decades, like a great many things in our society, our consumption habits for soft drinks have changed. As Americans, we are consuming fewer carbonated beverages in favor of less carbonated, more healthful options.
Some brands and longtime staples, such as Diet Coke, are aging and not appealing to the millennial generation.
As such, Coca-Cola expends a great deal of resources and effort rebranding and rethinking the way that it does beverages. You may have noticed, for example, that many of Coca-Cola’s newest acquisitions, such as the Honest Tea label, are noncarbonated. Another of Coke’s newest additions to its beverage line is called Fairlife Milk, which is lower in sugar than regular milk and lactose-free (read: Jewish-friendly).
If you’ve gone to the grocery store in the past several weeks, you’ve probably also seen that the Diet Coke can has gotten a face-lift. It now comes in four varieties with exciting names like Feisty Cherry (instead of Diet Cherry Coke) and resembles a sparkling beverage can, which is much more popular among millennials.
There is much, I believe, that those of us working in the Jewish community can learn from the creative, soul-searching work that is taking place at Coca-Cola.
In Atlanta, we are quite blessed to live in a demographically rich Jewish community. However, despite the number of Jews living in Atlanta, like Coke, we are in the middle of a great change in consumption habits. And it is quite clear that Jews of my generation are less likely to buy what we are currently selling.
Thankfully, on the synagogue front as with Coca-Cola, I can tell you that my Atlanta Rabbinical Association colleagues and I are hardly “coastering.” Rather, we are quite engaged in the juggling act of creating meaningful Jewish experiences for folks at every age and every stage of life.
When we think about institutional change, sometimes the answer we seek is as simple as a slight tweak or a technical solution: taking a Diet Coke, putting it in a new can and adding a twist. We add new tunes to services, public space programs, etc., to keep up.
However, in other instances, we recognize that we must rethink our traditional, institutional frameworks and examine people’s shifting consumption habits. How, for example, as society becomes more aware of Jews living with “all abilities,” do we make the extra effort to include Jews with disabilities our community?
Further still: How do we adapt to the ever-changing makeup of the modern Jewish family? To paraphrase the oft-quoted Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook HaCohen, it must be that we “take the old and make it new and take the new and make it sacred.”
I continue to firmly believe that synagogues, and Atlanta’s rich Jewish institutional life, have a tremendous amount to offer Jews here in Atlanta. We just have to get you to take a drink.
Rabbi Daniel Dorsch is the senior rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim.