Ben Wind, a San Antonio native in his late 20s, noticed that Jewish life in his Texas home town seemed to offer programs for young children and seniors, adults and teenagers, but there was a gap when it came to solid activities for young adults. So when he heard from a friend about people getting together at Rabbi Levi and Rochel Teldon’s home, he went.

And he very quickly got hooked.

Now the full-time student and paramedic is part of what has evolved into a thriving religious and social organization for young Jewish adults in the city.

“It started off small, with just Shabbat dinners, and now it’s grown,” says Wind, 28. “We started attracting members from all walks of life.”

The Teldons, who serve as program and youth directors of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in San Antonio (Rabbi Chaim Block is executive director), also run Young & Jewish San Antonio, or YJSA, which offers social, religious, learning and leisure opportunities in this south-central Texas city known for its history and miles-long “River Walk” pedestrian promenade. They moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Texas in the summer of 2010. About a year later, they started inviting young adults to their house for Shabbat.

The rabbi notes that “we are experiencing a huge burst in this age demographic, and our programming and our focus is to serve the needs of this group.”
The rabbi notes that “we are experiencing a huge burst in this age demographic, and our programming and our focus is to serve the needs of this group.”

What began in a small apartment in 2011 expanded with their space: Three years ago, they moved into a bigger home, with more room to cook for Shabbat and host guests. Their meals have gone from five people to an average of 30, says the rabbi.

“We noticed a void that needed to be filled in the community, in that there were many young adults who thought they were the only Jewish young adults in San Antonio,” explains Teldon. “They would be surprised when they’d come to our house and see a table of other people their age; it grew organically.”

He points to a Forbes report from 2010-13 that highlighted San Antonio as having the largest growth in the millennial sector for U.S. metropolitan areas (the city’s general population is approaching 1.5 million). “We are experiencing a huge burst in this age demographic, and our programming and our focus is to serve the needs of this group.”

Nicole Porterfield equates the local Jewish community with camaraderie and warmth. (Limelight San Antonio Photography & Video)
Nicole Porterfield equates the local Jewish community with camaraderie and warmth. (Limelight San Antonio Photography & Video)

The city’s culture, sense of togetherness, acceptance and diversity, he says, are all part of its charm.

“Local residents love what we’re doing. They seem very grateful that we helped put them on the Jewish map, recognizing that they exist and want to be involved,” says the rabbi, who is originally from Long Island, N.Y. “As a so-to-speak ‘outsider,’ I love introducing new people—young Jewish professionals who are moving here from Florida, from the East Coast, even from Dallas and Houston—to the local crowd, and love being part of their exploration and discovery of the beautiful, rich city that is San Antonio.”

‘Bite-Sized Experiences’

Rochel Teldon, 29, says she enjoys creating a community of young Jews who want to connect to Judaism, and who want to do so in what she calls a “more millennial-like style.”

“More bite-sized experiences are brought to them in a vibe and tempo that works for them,” she explains. “It’s not watered-down; it’s authentic Judaism. They can connect with Judaism and each other without necessarily having to go the more traditional way through synagogue membership.”

She grew up in San Antonio, and saw that young people were staying put in the city and that they needed opportunities to connect Jewishly. For women, she has held “Girls Night Out” and dessert-and-discussions. As someone their own age, she also makes time to meet them one-on-one. “I’ve become friends with so many of the women in the group,” she says. “We text, we call, and when we can, we go out for coffee.”

San Antonio representatives and the rabbi at a prior AIPAC event.
San Antonio representatives and the rabbi at a prior AIPAC event.

In January, the Teldons hosted “Shabbat 100,” with the aim of getting that many young adults together for Shabbat dinner. It seemed ambitious at first, but in the end, they exceeded their goal by 30 people. Throughout the year on Thursday nights, a group gets together to help prepare for weekly Shabbat dinners hosted by the Teldons. Also on tap: community-services projects, outdoor activities and hikes, social gatherings, and Jewish holiday programs and events, with parties for Purim and Chanukah specifically for their age group.

It’s all a way for young professionals to meet other Jewish men and women at a time in life when work tends to take over and meeting new people can be challenging.

From left: Esther Ansari, Isadora Sintes, Alicia Bach and Rochel Teldon light Shabbat candles at the Teldon home before a YSJA Shabbat dinner in honor of the birth of Esther's daughter.
From left: Esther Ansari, Isadora Sintes, Alicia Bach and Rochel Teldon light Shabbat candles at the Teldon home before a YSJA Shabbat dinner in honor of the birth of Esther's daughter.
Tables are set for Shabbat dinner, which draws about 30 people each week.
Tables are set for Shabbat dinner, which draws about 30 people each week.

Three years ago, 27-year-old Rachel Rosenfield decided to go to a bowling event sponsored by YJSA. A San Antonio native and a current pre-med student who spent six years in Boston, she says she was glad to find the group, which offers an informal, relaxed atmosphere to spend time with like-minded individuals.

She says the Shabbat dinners in San Antonio are at least double the size of the ones she attended on the East Coast, and attributes the group’s success to the environment it creates for participants. “It’s very ‘come as you are,’ ” she says. “And because they’re so open and welcoming to everybody, I think that’s how they maintain such a large group of people coming back.”

She admires the Teldons’ passion, and the way they always seem to find the time to reach out to people moving into the community, even with four kids and all the programs they run. “They’re two of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet,” she says. “They believe so deeply in their mission, and it’s infectious.”

YJSA has become her network, she adds: “Most of my good friends I met through YJSA. It’s really nice that I now know a lot of people in different facets of the community. It’s not only about business networking, but also very social.”

The Teldon family
The Teldon family

‘Common Theme: Judaism’

Nicole Porterfield, 29, went to Gan Israel Day Camp in San Antonio with Rochel Teldon when they were kids. The two had lost contact until a few years ago, when Porterfield, who works at KPMG in its Information Protection Management group, went looking for Jewish people her age. She participated in a YJSA women’s challah-baking event in the fall, which gave her a chance to reconnect with friends from childhood—and make new ones.

These days, she’s an integral part of the San Antonio Jewish community, which Porterfield equates with camaraderie and warmth. “The common theme is Judaism, but you’re there to be Jewish together; you have a social group where you don’t have to explain that part of yourself,” she says.

Meanwhile, the community keep changing, notes Porterfield, with more young people moving in for jobs and more Jewish organizations expanding to serve them. And it’s a city rich with culture and diversity, she says, with outdoor life in the day (numerous bike and walking paths, for instance) and much to do at night—all of which appeals to this age group.

“It continues to grow,” says Ben Wind of the young Jewish professional group and of San Antonio itself. “We have such a good base now that if people have friends who move here, they get them involved as well.”

Mayor of San Antonio Ivy R. Taylor spoke at the outdoor Chanukah menorah-lighting ceremony for YJSA. (Limelight San Antonio Photography & Video)
Mayor of San Antonio Ivy R. Taylor spoke at the outdoor Chanukah menorah-lighting ceremony for YJSA. (Limelight San Antonio Photography & Video)
Rachel Rosenfield says she likes the relaxed atmosphere of YJSA events and spending time with like-minded individuals.
Rachel Rosenfield says she likes the relaxed atmosphere of YJSA events and spending time with like-minded individuals.
Rabbi Teldon gives menorah kits to Jeremy Rosen, left, and Aaron Horning, right.
Rabbi Teldon gives menorah kits to Jeremy Rosen, left, and Aaron Horning, right.