Service Matching to Make Friends and Build Community

By Mollie Levison | Issue Date: November 2011

BJ Lobby. Photo Credit: Tom Zuback

When I first moved to New York during the fall of 2007, I knew almost no one. So, of course, my first mission after I got settled in was to make new friends. Thankfully, I did have one close friend from undergrad who, at the time, was living in New York. My friend just so happened to be pursuing his rabbinical degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary. For Simhat Torah, he invited me to go with him to BJ’s raucous celebration, and because I thoroughly enjoyed the ruah and dancing, my friend suggested that I check out BJ’s 20’s and 30’s group, Tze’irim. I went on bj.org and took a look at the Tze’irim page and noticed that the only event coming up at the time was the Hanukkah party. Of course, I did notice that if I wanted to get involved before the party I could do Tze’irim’s service match. Being new to New York and new to BJ, I did like the idea of going to Friday night services with a fellow young, Jewish professional, but the thought of just going to Friday night services with someone seemed not social enough for my taste at the time.

I went to the Hanukkah party with my rabbinical friend. It was there that I met Janine, a friendly Tze’irim member who, at the time, was finishing a postbac program. We bonded over sufganiyot and a mutual understanding of the difficulties of the New York dating scene. At the end of the evening we exchanged contact information, and she invited me to attend Shabbat services with her the following Friday. In essence, Janine was my first “unofficial” service match. We met at BJ a few minutes prior to the start of services and headed to the upstairs seating area where she said there would be more room and a bird’s eye view of the congregation. As this was my very first time ever attending BJ’s Friday night Shabbat services, I recall thinking that it was nice to have someone to sit with, especially when I would get lost during the exclusively Hebrew portions and Janine would direct me to the correct page in the siddur. Janine and I spent a few more Fridays in a similar fashion; sometimes her roommate or other friends from college would join us. I was definitely grateful to have somewhere to go and someone to spend time with on Friday nights; it allowed me to meet new people, be more comfortable with BJ in general and with going to Shabbat Services on Friday nights, which was something I rarely did growing up or in college. Truly and most importantly though, going gave me the opportunity to build my own personal community around BJ—which I did, over time. After a while, I once again started going to Shabbat services almost every Friday night. Now, I usually go to Friday night services, and I have many close, personal friends that I’ve met through BJ, and I can’t believe how many bars, concerts, happy hours, movies, parties, etc., I’ve been to with these friends—it’s not something I ever imagined that first night or on the nights when I went to services with Janine. Finally, now, when I volunteer to do a service match with someone new to BJ and in most cases, new to New York, I’m always happy to do it because I view it as a way to open the door for that person to not only make new friends, but also build a personal community around BJ—just like I did!

Mollie Levison is a member of Tze’irim’s Kehilah Committee and has been a BJ member since 2008.