Strengthening Jewish Identity and Community through Jewish Social Action Month
By Nathaniel Klein
Jewish Social Action Month (JSAM) runs from Tuesday, October 13 through Wednesday, November 11, 2015, and is a global initiative aimed at promoting social action and justice through volunteer projects that directly impact the community.
Rooted in the Jewish traditions of tzedakah, righteousness, and tikkun olam, repairing the world, JSAM is an indispensable tool in strengthening Jewish identity and communal renewal. The history of JSAM dates back to 2005, when Kol Dor, an organization that was dedicated to bringing together a new, younger generation of Jewish leadership, declared the month of Cheshvan – a month without holidays – as JSAM. Since then, JSAM has been endorsed by the Knesset, Jewish organizations, and a wide range of religious and political leaders around the world.
Month-long awareness campaigns related to causes such as domestic violence, breast cancer, and autism have been found effective for enhancing marketing and awareness metrics around an issue, notably boosted by social media promotion and partnerships. For the Jewish community, it is critical that we harness the potential of JSAM to not just impact the community, but also to infuse these programs with the potential to keep people engaged long after the month is over. As cabinet members at UJA-Federation of New York, we apply this strategy when allocating JSAM grants annually, which for this year amount to $78,000. JSAM opportunities have become a steppingstone – an entry in transforming one act of volunteering into many or year-round community service. This year, UJA-Federation funded 25 local community service projects throughout the five boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester.
The grants fund projects at a variety of agencies, including Jewish community centers, Hillels, human-service agencies, synagogues, and day schools. One of the projects this year will bring together teens from Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center with select synagogues and youth movements for Birthday in a Box, a community-wide day of service to learn about the issues of homelessness and hunger on Long Island. Teens will be throwing birthday parties for children in shelters in Nassau County, which will include creating goody bags and birthday cakes, decorating the shelters, and organizing games and activities.
JSAM is an opportune time to take our thoughts and promises from the High Holidays and implement them. It’s also a month in which, despite our extraordinarily diverse community, we can harness the power of social action to come together around shared goals. Institutions can leverage this opportunity to engage Jews of all backgrounds and to offer a gateway into the Jewish community for those not affiliated or who feel disconnected from religious life. We have the opportunity to use the common denominator of Judaism as an avenue to not only repair the world, but to further strengthen our Jewish bonds.
Nathaniel Klein is co-chair of JSAM and a Commission on the Jewish People (COJP) committee member at UJA-Federation of New York.