July 21, 2005
Twenty-Nine Days to Make Mitzvot
Aryeh Green and Yosef Abramowitz were sipping tea in a Bedouin tent last year in Sde Boker, a kibbutz in Israel's Negev desert, when they had an idea.
Participants at a conference of Kol Dor, an organization that seeks to revitalize Jewish activism and unity across the globe, the two were discussing how the group could promote Jewish identity and peoplehood.
"Most Jewish institutions and endeavors are out of touch with the next generation of Jews because of a lack of relevance," Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family and Life (JFL), which publishes several Jewish Web sites and magazines, told JTA. "But we do know that the idealism and the desire to contribute to the world" are predominant.
It occurred to them that a month in the Jewish calendar formally dedicated to social action would be an ideal means of mobilizing and inspiring the Jewish community.
Their initiative received a major boost this week when the Knesset's Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs proclaimed the Jewish month of Cheshvan, which falls in November this year, as Social Action Month.
According to Green, who serves as an adviser to former Israeli Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, "We agreed that if we wanted Kol Dor to succeed, we would have to focus on practical, tangible contributions."
"What makes this initiative interesting and unique is that it harnesses the power of different social action and Jewish organizations to get involved," Green said.
The goal is not to spearhead specific projects, but to "pull together the existing frameworks of social action."
The effort has garnered the support of various Jewish groups, including the Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the Israel Defense Forces' education branch and the World Union of Jewish Students.
Abramowitz said Labor Party legislator Colette Avital, who chairs the Knesset's Immigration Committee, has sent a letter to various Jewish organizations expressing support.
Jewish schools in Israel and the Diaspora will be a particular focus of the initiative. According to Abramowitz, Social Action Month will receive special attention in the BabagaNewz, a monthly magazine on Jewish values that JFL publishes for elementary school students. The magazine serves 1,400 Jewish schools and has a circulation of more than 40,000.
The JFL journal, Sh'ma, and magazine, JVibe, also intend to publish features on the subject, he said.
Abramowitz said Cheshvan was selected for the project because it immediately follows the High Holidays, which usually spur higher levels of Jewish observance.
The Knesset decision also represents a victory for Kol Dor, whose philosophy formed the ideological foundation for Social Action Month.
"The paradigm that we are advocating in Jewish life is that peoplehood is a central mobilizing force," Abramowitz said, citing the success of the movement to rescue Soviet Jewry as one example.
The group seeks to use the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, as a unifying theme.