If you are single, Jewish and between the ages of 18 and 28, Ari Teman wants to be friends with you. Before you get the wrong idea, he wants to be friends with you on Facebook – because that's where his Jewish social action group JCorps does most of its marketing.
JCorps volunteers at soup kitchens, old-age homes and children's hospitals. It claims a few thousand members and has branches around North America (a group was recently started in Montreal, Canada). While participants are attracted by the opportunity to "do a mitzvah," there's a strong social component as well. "I think you can do a mitzvah for selfish reasons," admits Teman. "Actually, I think selfishness can be a great trait. Maimonides tells us every behavior can be used for either good or bad (except anger, which is always harmful). Judaism has a tradition of generosity through selfishness, 'VaAhavtha LaReiecha KaMoha,' love your neighbor as yourself. We define generosity by thinking of ourselves!" Teman adds, "In fact, the people who are a part of JCorps for selfish reasons are usually the most reliable."
For a generation that has been accused of being selfish, partly because of its obsession with technology, Teman and Jcorps have turned that criticism on its head by using the very same technology to reach out and do good. They take pictures at their events and "tag" all of the participants on Facebook. The participant's friends then see the pictures, and many of them contact Teman to join JCorps themselves. "I would say we get over 30% of our volunteers from Facebook referrals," explains Teman. "Facebook has been great. It's really made JCorps possible. We've basically been able to spread the word about our events without spending any money. A lot of organizations have to raise money just to get set up, and then spend more money promoting events. All we did was put up a website and start a Facebook group and we were in business."
"All we did was put up a website and start a Facebook group and we were in business."
While Facebook explains the "how" of JCorps it doesn't explain the "why." Teman relates: "I was living in New York, thinking: how can you meet a diverse group of Jewish people. Usually what happens is, you go to a party the first week you move to New York with people you knew from college, and then you keep going to the same party, meeting the same people, and then everyone complains that they don't meet any new people. So I wanted to come up with a way to change that. But not just anybody, I wanted to meet nice people. So, I asked myself a question: how do you meet nice people? The answer: volunteering. And that's how the idea of JCorps was born."
Is JCorps a singles organization? "No," Teman says emphatically. So why aren't married people allowed to join? "Because married people are boring," Teman jokes.
Teman likes to do that too -- tell jokes that is. Believe it or not, he's a stand up comedian too. He performs a few nights a week at some of the clubs around New York and takes part in the Meshugenah Comedy Festival. He is also coming out with a one man show next year titled "Abandon All Hope: A Guide to Happiness" where he plays an "un"motivational speaker who tries to convince people that the way to be happy in life is to lower your expectations.
One could argue that the impetus for starting JCorps and his love for comedy come from the same place: Teman's Jewish roots. "Some comedians don't just make you laugh – they make you think. And that's part of the Jewish tradition. To question, to look at the world differently. And that's why I find that the funniest thing you can say, is usually the truest thing too."
At only 26 years old, Ari Teman is a pretty busy guy. But don't worry -- if you meet Ari either in cyberspace or in real time, he'll make time for you. After all, he wants to be your friend.