|Over 150 students and faculty at Torah Academy of Bergen County donated at least $5 to Sharsheret’s breast cancer campaign in order to be included in this photograph, taken on Wednesday. Over $2,000 was raised, in memory of Mrs. Toby Mayer, the mother of TABC junior Jared Mayer. Courtesy TABC|
It did not cost a dime to participate in the third annual Sharsheret Pink Day Around the World. Jewish students in four countries on Wednesday raised awareness for the Teaneck-based national breast cancer support organization (sharsheret.org) simply by wearing pink to school. If they generated donations, too – Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) alone raised $2,000 on Wednesday – that is icing on the cake.
And here is another unusual aspect of this volunteer effort: The driving force behind the annual event is an Orthodox college student, Tzvi Solomon.
Solomon was a freshman six years ago at TABC when admissions director Donna Hoenig launched “Do Real Men Wear Pink?” at the yeshivah high school in support of Sharsheret. He was one of a handful who showed up in pink on the designated day. Hoenig tried again the next year, and the next.
“By the time I graduated, the entire school, including the faculty, was wearing pink on Sharsheret Pink Day,” says Solomon. The boys also raised funds for the organization by charging $5 a head to be included in a group portrait.
“It was not easy to do in a boys high school, yet even today TABC raises the most money of any school,” says Solomon, now a junior at Yeshiva University. Whether it remains so this year awaits the final tally of donations, but it seems likely that the TABC record will hold.
Still, “it was never about the money. It’s about awareness. I find people neglect to get involved in causes because they feel it will cost them money they don’t have. I wanted kids to feel they could just put on a pink shirt one morning and make a difference.”
Inspired by Hoenig, Solomon harnessed the power of social media to turn Pink Day into an international phenomenon in Jewish high schools and post-high school programs in Israel. In cooperation with their administrators, kids come up with creative ways to mark the day, from serving pink snacks to suspending dress codes that normally preclude bright colors. Sharsheret supplies promotional and educational materials.
“I feel, as a 20-year-old, that I want to show people they have the potential to create change and do something positive,” says Solomon, who plans to wear a pink button-down shirt, pink yarmulke and pink socks on Feb. 29. “One of the most amazing aspects of the day is that almost the entire event is student-run and organized.”
Last year, students in about 70 schools in the United States, England, Canada, and Israel participated. Even more signed up this year, as evidenced by the listing on the event’s Facebook page. “We’ve built a network of go-to people. Many of the kids who did it three years ago as seniors in high school did it at school in Israel and now in their college or university.” In fact, students at 29 colleges and universities were participating this year.
Last year at Yeshiva University, Teaneck resident David Bodner served on a Pink Day volunteer committee that sponsored – with the support of the administration and various student groups – a 40-minute cake-decorating contest involving 15 teams of male and female YU college students, 15 sheet cakes, and unlimited frostings and toppings.
Ellen Kleinhaus, program manager and campus liaison for Sharsheret, says the organization encourages all kinds of fun events to raise awareness of its services. Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”) offers a community of support to young Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer or at increased genetic risk – and their families – through networks of peers, health professionals, and related resources.
“We’re so grateful to Tzvi for helping us publicize Pink Day,” says Kleinhaus. “He’s a perfect example of how we’re engaging the next generation. We just want to encourage them to make a difference creatively, to do something fun and utilize social media to educate everybody around them.”
Kleinhaus says other groups have done events such as Pink Shabbat and Manicure for Sharsheret. “TABC was the first school to designate a day to wear pink. Now some schools make their own pink shirts as Sharsheret Pink Day is growing.”
Solomon, who also recently began collecting nearly expired packaged foods from a local manufacturer to distribute at local food pantries and shelters, and to American troops abroad, uses Pink Day as an example of what can be done with little more than access to the Internet.
“It’s a shame that, as Jews, we so often look at a pink ribbon and the first thing that comes to mind is not Sharsheret,” he says. “I want to get into the most obvious and random places to make Sharsheret a household name.”