MONTREAL — Is JCorps mainly a group where singles get a chance to meet and mingle, or an opportunity to volunteer and do good work?
Actually, the answer is both.
Montreal is the second place outside New York City to become officially affiliated with JCorps, which, although it’s only a year old, is being touted as the “largest Jewish volunteer network in the world.”
Its members are Jewish singles aged 18 to 28 who can come from all streams of Judaism. They do volunteer work every Sunday in groups of about 20.
At the same time, the singles get to know each other and form bonds, while avoiding the singles scene of noisy bars and often empty relationships.
“In a sense, Montreal is opening up a JCorps franchise,” said Ari Teman, JCorps’s 26-year-old founder, on the phone from New York. “Other cities we’re also working on now are Boston, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
JCorps ascribes its phenomenal growth – about 10 per cent every two weeks, Teman said – to the fact that it is based in New York, with its teeming numbers of Jewish singles, and to the fact that it is largely using the Facebook social networking site, e-mail and word of mouth to get the word out.
Teman said the diverse range of New York singles involved in JCorps come from hundreds of countries, colleges and universities across America and around the world.
The Montreal JCorps leader is Judith Fuchs, a 23-year-old law student at the University of Montreal, who discovered JCorps when she was researching ways to volunteer in the community.
“It’s already taking off,” Fuchs told The CJN. “We heard from 120 people in four days.”
Teman, who works as a stand-up comic in New York and is a graduate of Brandeis University, makes no bones about the fact that his primary motive for creating JCorps was that he was growing weary of the Manhattan Jewish singles scene, where “you keep seeing the same people, the clubs are dark and loud, and you know after five minutes if there’s anything there.”
Even on its website, in the frequently asked questions section, people ask: “Is this organization the result of an overly elaborate plan to meet singles?” The answer comes back: “Yes. And you’re welcome.”
JCorps, Teman said, allows the singles to “enjoy a personal sense of fulfilment” through the volunteer work, while at the same time, making new “personal and professional connections.”
Fuchs said the primary motive in her JCorps involvement was to reactivate her volunteer spirit – she used to do quite lot of volunteering while going to school at Hebrew Academy – as well as to meet other singles.
Teman flew to Montreal recently to see Fuchs and help get JCorps off the ground locally.
The rules for JCorps are fairly simple, but they are enforced. Members must be Jewish, single and aged 18 to 28. All those doing volunteer work must wear JCorps T-shirts. Because JCorps is non-denominational and is not involved in religious activities, volunteer work is done on Sundays, not Saturdays or Jewish holidays, to enable more observant Jewish singles to participate.
JCorps stresses that its main role is to make connections between its volunteers and communal organizations. It is run exclusively by volunteers, including Teman.
Fuchs, who is also involved in Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec region’s young adult committee and is a past president of the Canadian Jewish Law Students Association, said she expects the first local volunteer event to take place within a few weeks, probably at the Old Brewery Mission, Montreal Children’s Hospital or a seniors residence.
“We want to be able to come back to the same place every month,” she said.
Teman is reluctant to specify the exact number of people in JCorps, but he said they number in the thousands and he stands by the JCorps claim that it is the “largest Jewish volunteer network in the world,” based on the involvement of New York City singles alone.
Costs are paid through corporate donations and small fundraisers, including comedy club evenings that charge token amounts. The money raised goes toward the cost of T-shirts, transportation to work sites and publicity. Teman said in the United States, JCorps has the status of a non-profit organization that can issue tax receipts, and Fuchs is now working to acquire the same status in Canada.
JCorps has also received attention from the New York Jewish media. The Jewish Week named Teman, who is also the founder of a product design firm, as one of its “36 under 36” for 2008, and JCorps was the subject of an article last year in the New Jersey Jewish Standard.
Teman said, depending on how things go, consideration might be given to starting up a JCorps for older singles, and even for married couples.
But so far, the unique approach taken by JCorps seems to be working. “No one has done the social volunteering approach for singles before,” he said.