The month of Heshvan — the second month of the Jewish calendar — is traditionally known as “Bitter Heshvan”; the High Holy Days are over, and gloom sets in as the leaves fall from the trees. A new initiative, however, aims to take some of the bitterness out of Heshvan by transforming it into Jewish Social Action Month.
The initiative does not focus on specific projects, but is a more broadly framed opoprtunity for Jews to get involved in community activism of their choosing. Students will play a key role during Heshvan — which begins in early November — thanks to a number of major organizations that will participate.
Jewish Social Action Month is an outgrowth of Kol Dor, an organization dedicated to bringing together a new, younger generation of Jewish leadership. The idea was proposed in the spring at a Kol Dor retreat in Israel’s Negev Desert — by Jewish Family & Life CEO Yossi Abramowitz and Aryeh Green, adviser to former Israeli Cabinet member Natan Sharansky — as a way to increase awareness of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or healing the world.
Soon the rest of the Kol Dor conference endorsed the initiative, and Abramowitz since has tried to get community organizations on board. “It’s a new, 21st-century grass-roots model,” he explained. “It’s not top down; it’s open to all groups to implement it.”
Abramowitz, who publishes magazines for Jewish youth, hopes to use his own publications to publicize Jewish Social Action Month. With a mostly teenage readership, JVibe will devote its Heshvan issue to tikkun olam. Designed for slightly younger children, BabagaNewz — sent to more than 1,400 schools and 40,000 students — will focus on social action and on good works.
Kol Dor member Adina Danzig, executive director of Hillel at Stanford, discussed the initiative with Avraham Infeld, president of Hillel. Infeld was excited about the project, and Hillel soon lent its support to the proposal, as well. Within the next month, Hillel will spread the word to its local chapters through various newsletters. “Hillel is endorsing Jewish Social Action Month through the national office as a tool for local Hillels,” Danzig said. “This initiative has the potential to help create a connection to Judaism regardless of religious or political affiliation.”
Several other prominent organizations have endorsed the new, caring face of Heshvan: The Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, the World Union of Jewish Students, and the Jewish Education Service of North America are among those that have expressed varying levels of support. The Jewish Coalition for Service has said it will set up a phone line where people can pledge hours of their time to do good work. Efforts are under way to get the denominational movements involved, as well.
In the hope of making this an annual tradition, both Judaism.com and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute will feature Jewish Social Action Month in their 2006 calendars.
It remains to be seen just how widely Jewish Social Action Month will be observed. Because school is out and students are away for the summer, there are almost no concrete, on-the-ground plans yet for Heshvan, and the initiative’s organizers are still unsure of what its impact will be. But they are optimistic.
“I hope Jewish Social Action Month eventually becomes part of people’s consciousness around the world,” Danzig said. “I’d like it to be a regular part of the Jewish calendar.”