Jewish Social Action Month seniors
Seniors at Jewish Home Lifecare preparing non-perishable soup packages for people affected by Hurricane Sandy last year. Photo courtesy of Jewish Home Lifecare

The busy weeks after Rosh Hashana were traditionally followed by a lull in the Jewish calendar, the month of Cheshvan, which doesn’t have a single holiday. But in recent years, Jewish Social Action Month (JSAM), a celebration of volunteerism and giving back to the community, has stepped in to fill that void.

From Saturday, October 5, to Sunday, November 3, 2013, people young and old from across the New York area will come together for more than 31 volunteer projects. The projects, which will involve more than 100 community organizations, are all in spirit of the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam, repairing the world. A number of projects this year involve seniors in our community, both looking out for their needs and recognizing what they have to offer. Find a full list of volunteer opportunities during JSAM.

Embodying the aphorism that you never get old if you never stop learning, seniors from DOROT will be working with high school and elementary school students on a number of projects where each will have something to teach the other.

Students from Abraham Joshua Heschel High School will be teaching seniors how to use iPads and iPod Shuffles. These are skills that DOROT found its seniors were looking to learn and “there was also interest on the part of teenagers who have incredible knowledge to share and teach,” says Judith Turner, DOROT’s director of volunteer services. “Programs for children and teens raise awareness about the realities faced by physically-limited seniors and provide an avenue to make a difference.”

Younger students from the Rodeph Sholom School will read the young adult novel “The Giver” with DOROT seniors and connect it to Jewish identity issues, and students at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan will hear immigration stories and personal histories of New York City from seniors that relate to the students’ social studies curriculum.

The Desire to Do More

Another JSAM program, the Kristallnacht Awareness Walk, grew out of a teen’s bat mitzvah project. Sophie Rubin decided to devote her mitzvah project to raising money for the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum after taking a class in the 6th grade where she got to work with Holocaust survivors and hear their stories.

Rubin’s desire to do more grew into the Kristallnacht Awareness Walk, which will take place during JSAM. The five kilometer walk will take place on Sunday, October 27th at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County. The walk will feature stations with information about aspects of Holocaust history including Kristallnacht, righteous gentiles, a station designed to make participants think about standing up for others speaking out against injustices, and Holocaust survivors who will share their stories in person.

“Their stories were incredible,” says Rubin. “Each survivor told me that many times it was easier to give up than it was to survive during the war. It was their faith, courage and strength that helped them to survive.”

“She was learning how the current population of survivors is getting less and less each year, and how important it is for her generation to pass along stories so people don’t forget,” says Becca Firestone, director of teen services at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center.

Jewish social action month seniors One of the Holocaust survivors who will be speaking to participants at the final station of the walk is Gloria Glantz. Glantz was born in a small town in Poland. She was left by her mother at just past the age of three with a woman who lived on a nearby farm. She never saw her family again; most of them died in Treblinka.

“The Holocaust is becoming very distant, it’s becoming like the Civil War,” she says. “We have to make it relevant to kids today because the Holocaust didn’t start with camps, it started with intolerance, with one group of people saying [to another], ‘you’re inferior.’”

Still another JSAM project, called Good Neighbor Bags, will involve seniors at Jewish Home Lifecare, a UJA-Federation beneficiary agency, creating emergency preparedness kits to distribute to seniors living in low-income housing. Last year, the seniors at Jewish Home Lifecare made non-perishable soup packages for people affected by Hurricane Sandy and this year they wanted to continue to help.

“Our seniors are sometimes the recipients of people coming in to do community service projects, but they are still vibrant members of the community who want to be give back,” says Miriam Levi, the director of community life activities at Jewish Home Lifecare. “[Hurricane Sandy] brought out more of the discussion of ‘what can we do for our community, how can we help?’”