March 22, 2001
Jessica Freedman's new 20-something group at Bnai Zion puts a young face on a venerable institution.
Jessica Freedman felt like neither fish nor fowl while pursuing her degree in Jewish studies at UCLA, and her social life was even less uplifting. During Rush Week on campus, Freedman looked into joining a Jewish-founded sorority. To her dismay, she discovered the house was awash in self-loathing -- members vigorously suppressed their Jewish identity to the point where wearing a Star of David or a chai was a faux pas. So Freedman joined a different sorority, only to discover later that the social order was insensitive to Jewish concerns, holding meetings on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Freedman never found that group she was looking for, so she decided to start it. Now 22 and an administrative assistant at Bnai Zion, Freedman merged the U.S.-Israel humanitarian group's thirst for a youth program and her own personal interest to create Y.A.D.A. -- an acronym for Young Adults Dedicated to Altruism.
Freedman herself grew up with a strong sense of cultural identity. She was raised in Hollywood (the other Hollywood, in Florida) in a Reform home. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, her mother born in a German liberation camp after the war.
Her mandate for Y.A.D.A. is to develop "a social group that will do charity at the same time. It's a great way to meet people, and it doesn't feel like a chore." Her idea is to mix tikkun olam and fun in a way that is attractive to postcollegiate young adults who are at a vulnerable time in their lives and careers when "they're still trying to find themselves. But if you start now to care about your identity, you'll do it for life."
At their initial get-together, about 25 young professionals met to discuss the direction of the group and to party down at a private reception at Yuu Yuu Karaoke Studio on the Westside. Since that Dec. 15 outing, Y.A.D.A. has received a surge of response from young Jews looking for a fun and constructive way to meet their peers.
The timing of Y.A.D.A. is just about right. According to Freedman's boss, Bnai Zion's Western Regional Director Gail Bershon, the 92-year-old organization is ripe to embrace the future through youth participation.
"It has always been my dream and my passion to have a young adult group," said Bershon. "We were blessed to get Jessica and have Y.A.D.A."
Y.A.D.A's next social gathering will be a trip to an L.A. Kings hockey game on March 26. Y.A.D.A. currently meets the first Tuesday of every month to make sandwiches for the needy. The next sandwich-making effort is April 3. Y.A.D.A. is also looking for people to help plan the upcoming Y.A.D.A. Bowl-A-Thon event in September. For more information, call Jessica Freedman at (323) 655-9128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.