A Social Action Month: Heshvan

Imagine doing good the other 11 months.

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Beware: Don’t believe everything you read. Most quotations and references to named individuals and organizations are fabricated.

As thousands of Buddhist monks continue to take to the streets of Rangoon in protest over ongoing military oppression and human rights violations in Burma, Jews around the world are gearing up to observe Heshvan, the 29 days designated Jewish Social Action Month.

"We certainly hope those monks can hold out until Heshvan starts so we can lend a hand," said J., chair of a major Jewish federation outside Asheville, North Carolina.

Like J., Jews all over America are looking forward to the beginning of Heshvan, when they can leave behind their studied apathy and explode in a burst of social justice activism for nearly 30 full days.

In 2006, Kol Dor, one of the founding sponsors of Social Action month announced that "[t]he first priority is…having Jewish Social Action Month marked on all Jewish calendars." After a year of extensive negotiations and an international call-in campaign to its Kansas City corporate headquarters, Hallmark has agreed to label Heshvan as Jewish Social Action Month on all Jewish calendars. Having checked off that significant achievement, Kol Dor is setting its sights on even greater game this year.

Around the Country

In Los Angeles, rabbis have called on their congregants to store their SUVs on blocks and put their Priuses on the pavement for a month of righteous driving.

In Chicago, synagogues are opening their doors to the homeless and providing free meals and shelter throughout the month. "If only they’d scheduled Jewish Social Action Month for Tevet," said L., the director of a local Jewish social service agency, "October is a reasonably pleasant month here in Chicago, but it gets really cold in December and January. These people are going to be freezing living on the streets then."

Of course, not everyone is thrilled by the Social Action month phenomenon. K., a 12-year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland, whose Bat Mitzvah will take place during Hanukkah, a few short weeks after Jewish Social Action month comes to an end, is particularly upset.

"It's such a disappointment that her Torah portion came up in Kislev instead of Heshvan," said K.'s mother. "Ten percent of what we're spending would have meant so much to the poor," she said, referring to the practice of donating 10% of the cost of the celebration of b'nai mitzvah in Heshvan.

Disappointed at being deprived of this opportunity for righteousness by the vagaries of b’nai mitzvah scheduling, K.'s family felt it had no choice but to allocate that $3,500 instead for an Irish step dancing performance at the party.

"If only Jewish Social Action Month lasted all year long, think of what we could accomplish!" K.'s mother said, wistfully.

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Aaron Dorfman

Aaron Dorfman is the Director of Jewish Education at American Jewish World Service. Before joining AJWS, Aaron completed a three-year Wexner Graduate Fellowship with a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a year of study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.