Talking Tuesdays spur some participants to give back

Last May, Lederer began volunteering for Talking Tuesdays. She helps the program coordinator with a hodgepodge of tasks, such as dealing with fliers, phone calls and general outreach.

The program, which bills itself as "mindful mingling," includes lecture-discussion topics ranging from Jewish views of pleasure to Israeli politics to Jewish meditation.

Lederer, who works in a computer firm's marketing department during the day, welcomes opportunities to connect with people outside the office.

"If I'm working in the corporate world, I'm going to be volunteering. It makes me feel good to help people" she says.

Lederer, whose father immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia before the Holocaust, has also volunteered at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services to tutor emigres from the former Soviet Union.

"It's not an effort at all, and it means so much to other people."

Yossi Offenberg, manager of Jewish programs at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, said the Talking Tuesdays group has "been a community in itself."

Participants "have met each other over discussion and dialogue, rather than over dancing. It's made people call in and ask where can they go to further their Judaism," he said.

They have also approached Offenberg wanting to volunteer. "They believe in the program. It's excited them, so they want to give back," he said.

Another Talking Tuesdays participant and volunteer, 29-year-old Karen Sibony, also found community through the group.

Raised in a traditional Sephardic home in Baltimore, Sibony moved here five years ago and found a dearth of young adults in the Sephardic synagogues. She found more of them at Talking Tuesdays and the JCC.

"I just think it's a great community. The JCC is a real genuine place to meet people," she said.

Mark Solomons, another Talking Tuesdays participant and volunteer, started helping out at the JCC in the early 1990s. Branching out beyond office tasks, he helped organize a three-week program in February called "Being Jewish in America."

Solomons, whose business provides escorts for frail elderly, says volunteering is worthwhile and fun. He also finds that volunteering creates a deeper connection to the community.

"It's important to feel part of a program rather than just being somebody on the outside. There's a sense of belonging."