Promoting the supporting cast: Young Jewish volunteers who work tirelessly throughout the year

When they already have jobs and other commitments, what spurs these young people into finding time to help others?


Two months ago, Gabby Edlin was persuaded by a friend to help out at the New North London Synagogue drop in centre for asylum seekers and refugees. 

She found no shortage of nappies, food and clothes among donated items, but also saw no women’s essentials such as tampons and sanitary towels. So she set up her own charity, Bloody Good Period, to do just that.

Juggling three jobs around the charity, the 30-year-old is an example of the new breed of young volunteers — a busy professional who makes time to help others.

“As a feminist I had always wanted to do something with women,” she explains. “And being Jewish, refugee issues felt incredibly important to me.

“I can nip to the shop to get my tampons but asylum seekers and refugees have a very limited amount of money to spend and tampons are expensive. I just put a call out on my Facebook and it went from there.”

Ms Edlin works “nine to seven most days. I’m a nanny, I work for the Royal Drawing School, I freelance in design and I work the occasional night as well. My week is packed.

“But I can do a lot of my charity work on my lunch break and evenings.

“I give up one Sunday a month to go to the drop in centre but everything else is about getting people to send in products.

“I have a wish-list on Amazon which people can just buy from and it gets sent straight to the synagogue. It is the kind of thing you don’t have to guilt people into doing.”

As part of Mitzvah Day, she organised her biggest collection of products outside Boots in Oxford Street.

“I’m not a very religious person,” she adds. “But my Jewishness is very much rooted in tikun olam and because Mitzvah Day is multifaith, it was lovely.

“I have always had a strong sense of justice, and understanding of injustice, maybe because I am Jewish. I know it sounds a cliché to say but I really feel it is my responsibility to help others.

“You just have to find the right thing for you. All my friends do something.

“I think the problem is a lot of people don’t know what to do. But when you find something that works, you realise you are not giving up anything to do it.”

Director of a tech company, father-of-two Jacob Colton is a young patron of Jewish Blind & Disabled.

Wanting to apply the skills used in his day job to help those less fortunate, he established a computing club for JBD tenants who he visits every few weeks to give computer and iPad instruction.

“My general philosophy is that if you want to do something, you make time for it,” Mr Colton, 31, maintains. The charitable commitment does not impact negatively on his family life and he can see his project’s success at first hand.

“The light on tenants’ faces when they work out how to Facetime their family, so they can speak to their grandchildren, is amazing,” he says.

“One thing that was important to me when I decided to give my time is whatever I picked had to be sustainable.

“With two children under four, family takes up a lot of time and I like to do keep fit twice a week.

“I find teaching people how to use computers really easy to do, because it is what I am good at and it is rewarding.”

It also makes him feel better connected to the Jewish community. “Judaism is about giving 10 per cent of your cash to charity but giving time is also something that helps strengthen and build our connection to each other.”

David Ereira, chairman of Norwood, also believes the key to getting young professionals involved is creating volunteering opportunities linked to their professional expertise.

Twenty-one years ago, Mr Ereira founded Young Norwood, believing “if we put on events where they could come to network but also find out about us as a charity, they would want to support us either financially or with their time.”

Through functions such as business breakfasts and property lunches, the charity has attracted 3,500 young professional supporters.

North Londoner Gabriella Mimran, 27, has been on Young Norwood’s committee for two years.

She got involved after the charity helped her autistic cousin by providing the family with respite care.

Mrs Mimran — a wealth manager who works a 40 hour week — helped to organise Norwood’s annual business, finance and entrepreneurs dinner.

“A lot of the fundraising and organising is done through emails which can be done alongside work at my desk,” she explains.

“It can be tiring but it is extremely rewarding, especially when you get to meet the people who use the Norwood facilities.”

Property lawyer Ben Menahem attributes learning more about his faith as the inspiration to volunteer with Jewish Care as a befriender.

“It brought me to a place in my life where I thought more about what I can do for the community.

“I have a job; I have a property. It was time for me to do something for someone else.”

Effective time management allows the 31-year-old — who works a 60 hour week and has a new girlfriend — to arrange his visits to Jewish Care resident and Holocaust survivor Moshe.

“Being a lawyer, I’m very structured,” he says. “I use my calendar and I fix times so I can create space.

“I see my girlfriend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I do my Jewish learning on a Monday. And I visit Moshe one Sunday a month. It is nothing if you think about it.”

Mr Menahem feels he has gained a lot from his befriending of Moshe, who is one of The Boys, orphaned Jewish children given refuge in the UK after the Second World War.

“He might be lonely and want someone to talk to. But at the same time, he likes to give advice and I like to hear it.

“We talk about relationships, his life experiences and I learn a great deal from it. I’m gaining his wisdom and experience all the time.

“Young professionals can get swept up in our relationships, our work life, our social life. We live online. But volunteering takes you outside of yourself and your world. That is really important.”

Mr Ereira says it is important for charities to appreciate the time constraints on young professionals.

“If we can have an hour a week, a month, a day, we will have it. But it has to be what people can realistically give up.

“There are always those who are too busy. Then there are those who are busy but still have a social conscience who want to put time into helping others.

“It’s our task as communal leaders to ensure a pathway is available to those who want to be engaged.”

Jewish Care chairman Steven Lewis accepts that more needs to be done within his own charity.

“We know what we have to date in terms of young supporters and potential future leaders isn’t enough to take this organisation forward for the next 25 years.

“Our young volunteers are setting an example for their peers, showing how even with busy lives, you can find the time to give back to members in the community and experience the benefits of doing so.”

Mitzvah Day has tapped into the market through its Active programme, involving “young professionals who are keen to give their time but are not sure how”, explains executive director Dan Rickman.

“This year, one of the Mitzvah Day Active projects put a group of Muslim and Jewish young professionals together who repainted and decorated a nursery for Norwood.

“We have a Mitzvah Day advisory group that keeps them involved all year round and we encourage them to do Mitzvah Day activities at other key points in the year — for example, on Pesach or Tu Bishvat or for the Muslim Sadaqa Day.

“Many also then form connections with the charities they help. We have people who started volunteering on Mitzvah Day and have continued through the year with Jewish Care, Jami, Noah’s Ark and others.”






Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive