Two years ago, Rabbi Berel Weitman—vice director of “Ten Yad,” the influential charity headquartered in São Paulo, Brazil—launched an initiative to get more young adults involved in the organization. Thus was born “Ten Yad Young Professionals,” which sponsors volunteer opportunities and social events for Jewish Paulistanos between the ages of 25 and 40.

Judging by the turnout at a party for Ten Yad Young Professionals earlier this fall—more than 1,000 strong—the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

“We never expected we could grow so big, so fast,” acknowledges Weitman.

Ten Yad (Hebrew for “lend a hand”) was founded in 1992 by Weitman’s father, Rabbi Dovid Weitman, also founder of Chabad Morumbi and Chief Rabbi of Sephardi Congregation Beit Jaacob Safra, along with his wife, Sonia. Its mission is to combat hunger and social inequality in Brazil, a country in which some 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook.

In São Paulo alone—the largest city in Brazil and in the Americas, and the world’s 12th largest city by population—approximately 10 percent of the city’s 80,000 Jews live in poverty.

As such, Ten Yad works to distribute 700 tons of food yearly across the country. The organization cares for the needs of the elderly and disabled as well, sending more than 80,000 hot “Meals on Wheels” each year directly to their homes.

An Often Untapped Demographic

A cornerstone of Ten Yad’s activities is the Refeitório Eshel Menachem soup kitchen, where volunteers serve three hot meals daily to more than 2,800 São Paulo residents.

Victor Metta, a Ten Yad Young Professionals committee member, spoke at the event.
Victor Metta, a Ten Yad Young Professionals committee member, spoke at the event.

Last December, Ten Yad dedicated a new 35,000-square-foot center—donated by the late philanthropist Joseph Safra and named the Esther Safra Center in memory of his mother—that houses the soup kitchen, in addition to a library, day-care center, offices, ophthalmic clinic and other social services. A catering kitchen and elegant event space are welcome additions for hosting weddings, bar mitzvahs and other Jewish life-cycle events, with Ten Yad having a fund to assist with simchas there for families who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

About 300 volunteers help run Ten Yad’s programming, which takes place 365 days a year. Rabbi Berel Weitman says he was motivated specifically to try to get more young adults involved because he realized it’s a demographic that’s often untapped by Jewish philanthropic groups.

“There are many programs for students in university or for young married couples, but not as much for young people who are neither here nor there,” he says.

Many young adults, in the midst of building careers and leading busy social lives, don’t have extensive time to commit to volunteer work. But, notes Weitman, they often have a strong desire to give back and be a part of charitable organization.

A core group of about 50 young adults volunteer regularly for Ten Yad, but Weitman says Ten Yad Young Professionals also focuses on creating opportunities for socializing and building awareness for Jewish causes. Every other month, they host parties and casual events where participants can meet other young Jews in a similar stage of life.

Weitman hands Isabbela Beker, also a Ten Yad Young Professionals member, a bag of promotional and educational materials.
Weitman hands Isabbela Beker, also a Ten Yad Young Professionals member, a bag of promotional and educational materials.

The young professionals also organize group volunteer efforts, such as packing baskets of food and other necessities to distribute to needy Jewish families before Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

The events average between 150 and 200 participants, and, as a bonus, have proven to be fertile ground for matchmaking. According to Weitman, “we’ve had many couples come out of our events.”

‘Do Something Good’

Ralph Hazzan, a 30-year-old banker, became involved with Ten Yad Young Professionals two years ago. His mother is a longtime Ten Yad volunteer, which motivated him to join the younger contingent.

“I feel it’s very important to be involved in a charitable cause and to have the opportunity to give back to the community,” he says. “I know many young professionals feel similarly. It’s important for them to set aside time from their busy lives to do something good for society.”

Jessica Reitzfeld, a 28-year-old working in advertising, participated in a volunteer event last spring. She helped prepare baskets to distribute to Jewish families before the Passover holiday.

“We made 700 baskets in one hour,” she says of the event. Reitzfeld explains that she appreciates that Ten Yad Young Professionals not only provides opportunities to give back, but also to meet new people. “It gives us a chance to be socially active with other young Jews with like-minded interests.”

Volunteers pack bags of Passover food for Brazilian Jews in need.
Volunteers pack bags of Passover food for Brazilian Jews in need.

In September, 1,000-plus people flocked to a celebratory bash for Ten Yad Young Professionals, held at their headquarters in São Paulo. The event featured a cocktail party, and keynote speeches from Rabbi Dovid Weitman and a guest author. The party’s goal was to introduce more young Jewish adults to ways they can become involved with Ten Yad.

The next big event will be a Chanukah party in December, where guests will enjoy food and drinks, and pack holiday baskets for families in need.

“It’s the right moment. People who are starting this new stage in life, starting a new career, also want to help people who are less fortunate,” says Rabbi Berel Weitman.

And he sums up why he thinks the charitable initiative has become a hit among the younger set of Paulistanos: “It’s a beautiful, different way to experience being Jewish.”

Rabbi Dovid Weitman, left, and Rabbi Berel Weitman, vice director of Ten Yad
Rabbi Dovid Weitman, left, and Rabbi Berel Weitman, vice director of Ten Yad
Ten Yad Young professionals meet to discuss new projects. Says Rabbi Berel Weitman: “People who are starting this new stage in life, starting a new career, also want to help people who are less fortunate.”
Ten Yad Young professionals meet to discuss new projects. Says Rabbi Berel Weitman: “People who are starting this new stage in life, starting a new career, also want to help people who are less fortunate.”