You can get a lot from volunteering: a satisfying feeling of doing good or a smile or hug from a person you’ve helped. Or maybe a date.
Some couples in the Philadelphia area are gearing up for Valentine’s Day by reminiscing about how they met while giving back.
Rachel Kaufman and Howard Schatz
For one couple, volunteering with Jewish Relief Agency (JRA) led to more than just boxing up food.
“We originally met online,” Kaufman, 48, recalled, “and we were just talking online, you know, like, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ and ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ and it turned out we were both going to JRA and we were like, ‘Oh wow, how about that?’”
So that day in 2009 they both went with their kids — both had been previously married — to pack up boxes for delivery and to meet in person for the first time.
Later that week, around St. Patrick’s Day, Schatz, 56, visited Kaufman at Brandywine Senior Living where she works as an activity director and found her head to toe in green, Kaufman recalled. He gave her a copy of Haikus for Jews and “that was the beginning.”
They married in August 2015 after “courting for a few years,” as Schatz said.
JRA remains close to their hearts. It was even a contender for a wedding venue. They continue to go every month if they can with some semblance of their family — be it children, parents, even Kaufman’s 92-year-old grandmother, who was honored by JRA in 2015.
“The first time I ever went to JRA I was like, ‘This is cool, you’re putting food in a box and whatever,’ but the really amazing thing is when you go to deliver the food, and it’s maybe $20 worth of nonperishable food, but this is making such an enormous difference in someone’s life,” Kaufman said.
It’s also a lesson for their four children, who range from 16 to 26.
“I started bringing my sons before they were even teenagers,” recalled Schatz, a science teacher at Wyncote Academy, “so for me, it was wanting to have my kids have a perspective on the world.”
In addition to helping those in need in the community, they both pointed to the connections you can make at JRA with people you may not have met before.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have people think outside the box,” said Schatz, noting that he uses chemistry as a new way of teaching cooking and cleaning to his students, “and I think that’s what JRA did, that they put things in a box that help people because someone thought about other people outside the box and said, ‘Can we do this?’”
“One of the amazing things about JRA,” Kaufman added, “is it’s not necessarily all people who are Jewish who are volunteering. It’s people from all walks of life and you’re all there for the common purpose: for the greater good of helping your neighbor.”
Heather Harad and Alex Feinberg
For some couples, it takes a trip overseas.
Heather Harad and Alex Feinberg went to Israel on an Israel360 trip with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia NextGen group in 2015.
Through a few pre-trip get-togethers, they got to know each other and unofficially date before heading out on the 10-day trip together.
“We went to happy hour and then went to a Shabbat dinner, and then everyone went out afterward. We were talking more and getting to know each other at the Shabbat and after.
“Then Alex asked me to hang out and I declined a couple times,” Harad, 33, laughed.
They both extended their trip and were able to spend more time together in Israel. Feinberg, a real estate agent with A. Margolis Realty Co., spent some time training in the birthplace of Krav Maga, which he teaches in Conshohocken and Cherry Hill.
Since their return, they’ve stayed involved and joined in some charity and volunteering events — after all, they owe a bit to the Jewish Federation.
“If it wasn’t for the [Jewish] Federation, we probably would have never met,” said Harad, a sales manager for a linen and uniform rental company for the restaurant and hospitality industry.
The couple now lives in Center City with dog Max, and both continue to look for ways to give their time and volunteer.
“It feels good to always give back to our community and we’ve been very fortunate. I feel like it’s our duty to give back,” Harad said.
“It builds on our relationship, our shared values and morals of giving back to the community,” added Feinberg, 29.
Eli and Erin Rolo
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also brought Eli and Erin Rolo together, albeit a bit indirectly.
“We didn’t actually meet at a Jewish event but we actually started dating because of one,” Eli Rolo explained.
The pair first met in 2010 when Eli, a consultant with Deloitte, was out with friends he met on an Israel260 trip with NextGen. One of his friends knew Erin, a marketing and product development manager for a tabletop and glassware company, who was at the same place, and they introduced themselves.
“Not that she wasn’t nice to me, but she kind of blew me off a little bit,” Eli remembered with a laugh. “I had a very bad impression of her after that night.”
A few years later, a friend of his went on a few dates with Erin before she broke it off. Then, he got a friend request from her less than a year later, but neither messaged the other.
“Ironically enough, a month after that we had an art gala sponsored by the [Jewish] Federation, and we both went separately and somehow through our mutual groups of friends we started talking and that was pretty much it,” Eli Rolo, 36, said.
“First impressions really aren’t everything is the moral of that story,” he laughed.
They married in June 2016.
Erin Rolo, 33, had also gotten involved with NextGen through an Israel360 trip in 2012, and both noted that the friendships and connections to the community they made helped get them more involved in the work NextGen does.
They try to volunteer their time when they’re able.
“I definitely think that it keeps us involved with the Jewish community within Philadelphia, which is nice, and we’re able to surround ourselves with people our age, and even younger,” Erin Rolo said. “Also within our 360 trips, we have both built long-lasting friendships that we’re allowed to continue and maintain again through [Jewish] Federation and different volunteering events.”
Israel360 created Eli Rolo’s first real connection to the Jewish Federation.
“It shed a light on a lot of our eyes in terms of how important it is to give back not only financially [but] with our time to help the cause.”
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