Malkiel “Kiki” Nadel traded a lucrative job in the financial field to head The Chevra, a nonprofit group in Philadelphia whose mission is to bring young professionals and grad students together to create a sense of community, safety and understanding between Jews.
“The very fact that I’m not spending time just helping a company earn profits — there’s no financial goal here,” said Nadel, 36, of Lower Merion.
“The goal of the company was not something that would make me want to jump out of bed in the morning, whereas when I was working for The Chevra it was just that,” said Nadel, who is Orthodox and married to Shira, an administrative nurse. She works part time for
“I find myself much more motivated to step into the role, to step up to the plate and make sure everything’s getting taken care of,” said Nadel, who earned a high school and bachelor’s degree in Talmudic law at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville, Maryland. He received his law degree at the University of Baltimore.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see Jewish people transition from feeling disconnected and potentially lonely to realizing they have a place or a home in Philadelphia as a Jew,” said Nadel, who belongs to the Orthodox synagogue Young Israel of the Main Line.
The Chevra, which Nadel directs, creates a unique blend of social, educational, cultural, spiritual activities and volunteer experiences. It also runs Birthright-like trips to Israel and Poland for millennials. The organization is 20 years old with a venue in Center City that is now in full operation after a few years on hiatus due to an electrical fire in 2019 and then COVID.
The Chevra is a warm Hebrew word for a close group of friends. The venue on Ludlow Street is a social and educational center that serves as a music venue, art gallery, classroom and bar.
“We wanted to create more of a perpetual community, one that was not necessarily surrounding the synagogue,” Nadel said. “It’s a limited time frame that people have interactions with their synagogue, over the weekend. More importantly, we wanted to be able to reach and interact with people who are not affiliated with a synagogue.”
Three thousand people are on the organization’s mailing list and hundreds attend programs like Shabbatons, social gatherings and classes. An eight-class series leads to a trip to Israel. This past summer, 55 Jews attended the 12-day trip. The Chevra has also sponsored trips to South Africa and the Poconos.
The Chevra is subsidized by individual donors and grants from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and other sources.
The organization is affiliated with Aish Chaim, an Orthodox synagogue in Merion.
The Chevra has pivoted with the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel “to create additional programming and add resources to help with that crisis,” Nadel said.
“We’re creating an environment that is giving people the power to do something, a place to feel safe, a community to connect to, to gain an understanding and insight into what’s happening, the struggle that the Jewish people are going through.”
The Chevra coordinated a bus trip to the Nov. 14 March for Israel in D.C. “We had a huge event with a vigil, some singing and a panel discussion.” Sarah Greenberg, a former advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister spoke. “It was a very moving event.”
There are plans for a Chanukah event, which is one of the biggest parties of the year in Philadelphia. Hundreds are expected to attend.
“It’s also going to be an opportunity for us to address what’s going on in Israel and take a moment to have some form of solidarity.”
The Chevra is starting an educational series in self defense and emergency response “so people know how to protect themselves. We’re offering tools for situational awareness. A lot of people are feeling a sense of insecurity and I think that’s where these programs try to help.”
“We’re really looking to help put Jews in touch with each other, prevent Jewish apathy, non-affiliation and unawareness as to what it means to be a Jew. We saw a great need in Philadelphia for this, for Jews to be able to have a sense of identity in a community, a window into Jewish wisdom, Jewish spirituality. The Chevra was born to fill that vacuum.” T
Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.