NEW YORK (JTA) — After weeks of deliberation and the tally of more than 600,000 online votes, the Jewish Federations of North America has named its first Jewish Community Hero — Ari Teman, the founder of JCorps.
A panel of judges from outside the federation system chose Teman, 27, for the $25,000 Jewish Community Heroes prize after whittling down a list of more than 400 nominees.
The Jewish Federations announced the choice Tuesday at the closing plenary session of its General Assembly conference in Washingon. The contest was part of the federation system’s new multimillion-dollar marketing and rebranding strategy to broaden its base of support.
Teman’s organization sets up young Jews with volunteer opportunities in nine cities over three continents — all while working on virtually no budget.
Teman, a standup comedian by day, runs JCorps as a volunteer on a budget that is probably less than the award he will take home. Yet the organization has enlisted some 10,000 volunteers for local community service projects in the United States, Canada and Israel.
"This will enable us to take in a lot more volunteers rapidly without having to worry, ‘Do we have to slow it down because we can’t afford to bring more people in?’ ” Teman told JTA.
Teman said he started the organization in 2007 on something of a late-night whim about how he could meet more Jewish people.
The money will help the program expand and perhaps allow Teman to hire his first professional staff member.
"The first year we started with $300,” he said. “We like to say that if we had no money we could still keep running, which is great, because it means the money we put in is for growth."