Finding True Love and Lifelong Friendships Through YAD
By Rebecca S. Cohen
Watch out J-Date! YAD, the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin Young Adult Division, is giving you a run for your money. While the primary goals of the group are outreach and engagement, leadership development and philanthropy, participants have also found true love and lasting friendships through participation in YAD’s networking events open to Jewish young professionals in their 20s and 30s.
Julie relaxes at the bar with girlfriends during the group’s annual Chanukah party. Across the room she spies an attractive man she’s never seen before talking with a mutual acquaintance. “Hey ladies,” she jokes,“you’ll have to excuse me. I see my next ex-boyfriend.” She makes her way across the room so that she and Ari, tall and personable, can meet. Perhaps he is attracted to her sparkling eyes and bubbly personality and she to his easygoing manner. Maybe they connect because of his involvement with JLEAD, a leadership development program for 45 and under professionals and hers as co-chair of the upcoming Milestone dinner, YAD’s annual fundraiser. A lunch date soon follows and then evenings together and a trip to Chicago to meet his family. In a little over a year Julie and Ari Franklin marry at Congregation Agudas Achim. Julie, who once staffed Shalom Austin program, such as PJ Library, Shabbat Play and Shalom Baby, now avails herself of these services. Their son JJ is three months old.
If you Google “100 Days of Impact: Connecting Young Adults” you can watch the Franklins tell their story, Julie in a striking red maternity dress with a protective hand on her baby bump, Ari relaxed, all smiles as he recounts how their involvement with the Jewish community through YAD has brought them together. They are, literally, poster children for Federation proving that Jewish summer camp attendance, observing parents’ participation in the Jewish community and Birthright trips increase the likelihood that Jewish singles will seek out Jewish partners. Somewhere on the Dell Jewish Community Campus, says Julie, there really is a poster with their image on it.
“I get many phone calls from Jewish mothers and fathers and grandparents asking me, ‘can you help my son meet a nice Jewish girl,’” says YAD Coordinator Sarah Weisfeld when asked how YAD participants connect with the group and then with each other. She follows up with a phone call or email inviting prospects to let her know which programs are of interest. Others hear about YAD through friends or Google “young adult Jewish Austin” to find the YAD website’s impressive list of activities which include Chanukah and Purim parties, intergenerational Shabbat dinners and Passover Seders. For those 20- and 30-something young adults who have moved alone to Austin and don’t have family in the city, the opportunity to share such occasions has special meaning. “Every Federation has to assess their demographic,” Weisfeld says. Austin has a lot of transplants. For some, just being able to join in outdoor activities like hiking and paddle boarding helps them feel welcome within the community.”
Weisfeld also likes to emphasize the philanthropic aspects of YAD and the need to raise money so that Federation can underwrite the group’s activities. She encourages members to join the 360 Club and donate a minimum of $360 (or $30 per month) to the annual Federation campaign, and attend the Milestone dinner each February. At the same time she does not neglect planning myriad opportunities for social interaction, and welcomes suggestions from YAD planning committee members. “Anything they want, we’re willing to do it,” she says. In establishments like Key Bar in downtown Austin, "newish" members are invited to come early to monthly happy hours and mingle with committee members who welcome them with a free first drink. The event is open to everyone else 30 minutes later. No RSVP’s are necessary for happy hour. There are no dues or initiations, no need to be sponsored or recommended to the group.
One of the most successful programs through YAD is “Party of 8” which began in Austin as part of a now defunct young professional’s group called Impact led Jennifer Jacobson after she graduated from UT. “There was a great need for a Jewish young professional and grad student social group at the time,” she says. Reservations are made for eight people at several different Austin restaurants. Those who sign up may request to have dinner with someone specific, but most are singles randomly paired with other singles and assigned by YAD to a particular restaurant. Everyone pays for his or her own dinner. They are then invited to an after party for all of the individual participants at each of the Parties of 8. YAD members who don’t attend dinner are also invited to the after party. Impact, when it hosted the program, was unaffiliated and existed concurrently for a number of years with the Federation program. As YAD gained strength through the leadership of former Jewish Federation Assistant Director Dana Epstein, Jacobson folded Impact into the community group and became YAD social chairman, bringing Party of 8 and the Mazel Ball programs with her. She says, “It was truly a delight to plan both events and it feels like kismet that I finally met my husband at an event I’d been planning for eight years!”
Jen, who jokes that she has been “actively on the prowl” since she was born sees Reid’s name on the list of people at the 30+ table where she’s seated herself for the evening’s Party of 8. She is both social chairman and a single woman looking for Mr. Right. “Reid, she thinks. Huh! That doesn’t sound very Jewish.” Jen, who has been planning these parties for years, has made great friends, but has yet to find “the one.” Since she’s turned 30 her mother, who had once insisted she “marry Jewish” has taken a fallback position. “I don’t care if he’s Jewish. Just marry somebody!” This is Reid Jacobson’s first Party of 8, although he has in fact been active in the Jewish communities of Houston and Atlanta before moving to Austin where he works at Dell in an office on the floor below Jen’s office. Surprisingly, they have never met. They sit together at dinner. Jen is all smiles. She thinks he is hilarious. He finds Jen’s self assurance and social skills attractive. They make a lunch date at Dell. A year and a half later Reid surprises Jen with a marriage proposal and ring delivered on stage in front of an audience at a local Improv Comedy Club. The proposal video is still on You Tube. Jen and Reid Jacobson marry less than a year later. They now have a two year old daughter named Talia who enjoys PJ Library and other programs that fall under the auspices of Shalom Austin.
The Franklins and the Jacobsons are not alone in having found each other through their participation in YAD. Shlomit and Marcos Kirsch’s story has also been recorded on video by the Jewish Federations of North America. They met at a YAD gathering after a concert. Shaine Milheiser and Ian Spechler first struck up a conversation at the Milestone in 2013 and married two years later, the first couple to tie the knot at B’nai Abraham on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. All recommend involvement with the Jewish community in general, and YAD in particular, as a means of establishing lasting relationships with people who have shared values, interests and histories. “I think whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship relationship, it can be found through YAD,” says Julie Franklin. “While you might not meet your lifetime partner, you’ll definitely meet lifelong friends.”