Young adults reap rewards of helping others

Congregation Beth Israel’s young adult group Jews Next Dor uses social action to help community members feel engaged.

Elisheva Cohen, the current chair of Jews Next Dor, says the group has been growing rapidly over the past few years. “There seems to be a strong desire among young Jews in the area to meet and spend time with other Jews their age,” said Cohen. She believes one reason the group has grown is that it offers a diverse range of programs so there is something for everyone.

“At a recent event at the Ronald McDonald House, we ran into a family we had met on a previous visit. When they saw us, they were delighted to have a recognizable face. I must have spent 15 minutes talking to this mother. It’s great to know that just these small things we do make an impact on their chaotic lives.” – Mandolyn Koberstein

Adding more social action events also has helped the group attract members of the community. Mandolyn Koberstein first heard about Jews Next Dor more than two years ago, but it was not until she saw they had a social action event with Portland’s Ronald McDonald House that she decided to join. “I waited probably a year after I first heard about JND. When I saw a post about their need for volunteers, that’s when I jumped at the opportunity,” said Koberstein.

Koberstein is now the Jews Next Dor Social Action chair, working to plan programs where members can volunteer their time and give back to those in need. “It is wonderful to see our members come out, fulfill mitzvahs, warm hearts and put smiles on faces of those who are going through difficult times,” said Koberstein.

In early 2012 Julia Waldinger proposed that the group partner with Ronald McDonald House Charities. “I wanted Jews Next Dor to do more social action because it allows Jewish young adults to help people in the community and pushes them to step outside of their comfort zone,” said Waldinger. Jews Next Dor decided to have at least one event with Ronald McDonald House every month. So far, they have cooked dinners, hosted a bingo night, and done arts and crafts projects. At their June event, 15 Ronald McDonald House families came out to do an obstacle course and have a barbecue with Jews Next Dor volunteers.

Koberstein and Waldinger agree that one of the best aspects of social action is not only how much community members help Ronald McDonald House families, but also how much volunteers themselves get out of their experience.

“What I find truly rewarding is watching what every volunteer takes out of the experience,” explained Koberstein. She reminisced about a time when a young girl named Hannah was staying with her father at a Ronald McDonald House while undergoing treatment for leukemia. “I was struck by how resilient she was through all the hardship. Over the course of the evening this bright girl taught a bunch of 20- and 30-year-olds how to do math using the lattice method!” said Koberstein, remembering how inspired the volunteers were by Hannah.

Waldinger says she also gets just as much out of the volunteer experiences as the families do. “It is a very rewarding experience for me. It never feels like a responsibility, or an obligation. I love it. Never do I feel better about how I have spent my time than at the end of a day of service,” shared Waldinger.

Jews Next Dor’s social action events make it possible for young adults to give back, feel engaged and spend time with other members of the Jewish community. “It is just wonderful that this group encourages members of the Jewish community to come out for such a worthy cause,” said Koberstein.

Cohen hopes that the group can continue to grow in many ways. “Jews Next Dor is a community of caring young adults – we care about each other and the community. While we love to get together for social events, it is important to us that we use our skills and passions to help the greater community of Portland and the world,” said Cohen.

Participants do not need to be a part of Jews Next Dor or Congregation Beth Israel to take part in events. Jews Next Dor will be accepting donations of new stuffed animals through the end of October for Ronald McDonald House families.

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Vanessa Van Edwards is a freelance writer and speaker in Portland. She specializes in human relationships, with a focus on youth and family. Her websites, and her popular parenting blog, have both been featured in the media.

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