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Daily kindness

Bergenfield-based Areyvut’s calendar offers a suggestion a day

Mitzvah Clowns from the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s Jewish Journeys program.
Mitzvah Clowns from the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s Jewish Journeys program.

How can you be kind today? What about tomorrow? And the day after that?

If you need some practical ideas, there’s a desk calendar for that: The 2019 “A Kindness a Day Calendar” from Areyvut, a Bergenfield-based non-profit that runs educational social-action programming for Jewish teenagers.

Subtitled “365 Ways to Make the World a Better Place,” the 2019 desk calendar presents monthly themes and daily suggestions of simple acts of kindness that are appropriate for people of almost any age. Each suggestion is accompanied by a relevant Jewish text as a spiritual source of the good deed.

For example, the February theme “darchei shalom,” paths of peace, includes the suggestion to extend a meal invitation to someone with whom you are not close friends, and another to “catch yourself overreacting and take a deep breath” based on Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty.”

“The 2019 ‘A Kindness a Day Calendar’ is a moral guide and a roadmap to help make the world a better place,” said Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut. (The word areyvut means responsibility in Hebrew.)

“The calendar is a means though which people of all ages and from all walks of life can infuse their lives and the lives of others with the values of chesed (kindness), tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (social justice) that lie at the core of Jewish tradition and practice,” Mr. Rothner said.

He noted that the calendar also is a unifier for Jews using it in different parts of the world because they are doing the same thing on the same day as they make kindness a part of their daily routine.

Areyvut debuted the kindness calendar in 2005 and has experimented with different formats, including digital. Mr. Rothner said the hard-copy thematic format it is using now “makes it a more effective tool or personal resource for people looking to improve their character. For us, it’s a concrete representation of Areyvut; much better than a pencil or a hat we can give out.”

Areyvut’s “A Kindness a Day Calendar.” (Courtesy Areyvut)

Areyvut, which was founded in 2002, has engaged with more than 35,000 program participants in collaboration with schools, parents, community leaders, and Jewish organizations. The themes of chesed, tzedakah, and tikkun olam are its calling cards.

Many bar and bat mitzvah students choose their mitzvah projects from among options presented at Areyvut’s chesed fairs. Other ongoing programs focus on teen philanthropy, preschool values education, and “mitzvah clowning” in local hospitals and nursing homes.

Areyvut has distributed more than 100,000 “You Matter” cards carrying the simple message that everyone makes a difference. It posts infographics on social media on topics such as fostering an attitude of gratitude. The organization now is developing resources for teenage leaders of synagogue youth groups, and booklets filled with hands-on projects to help parents and teachers engage children in chesed.

Some of the programs go beyond the borders of New Jersey. One example is Areyvut’s involvement in Billy’s BASEballs, a nonprofit initiative Billy Cook of Washington Township created as his bar mitzvah project four years ago. Billy asks people to write messages of gratitude on baseballs to send to U.S. troops abroad.

“Areyvut has had a relationship with Billy’s BASEballs for years,” Mr. Rothner said. “To date, he has sent over 12,000 signed baseballs to the troops. Billy received the Young Leadership Award at our breakfast this past spring. At the breakfast I announced that Areyvut is committed to helping him reach 18,000 baseballs before he leaves for college next fall.

“Through programs including at day schools in Teaneck, Paramus, and Skokie, Ill.” —that’s Yeshivat He’Atid, Yeshivat Noam, and Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School” — “synagogues in Boston and Brooklyn and at our annual erev Yom Kippur program, his current number is over 16,000, and he anticipates surpassing 17,000 in the spring and we are confident that we will surpass the 18,000 number.”

Areyvut offers tips on how families can increase their sense of gratitude.

Mr. Rothner arranged to distribute 100 baseballs last March before a school snow day “so that people could infuse their snow day with the ability to help others.”

Areyvut also has gotten local kids involved in programs such as Vision For and From Children and the U.S Soccer Foundation’s Passback Program, which distributes used soccer gear to underprivileged children.

“Chesed should be planned out and deliberate, not by happenstance,” Mr. Rothner said.

The calendar doubles as a fundraiser for Areyvut, whose largest stream of income is individual donors.

You can buy the calendars online at www.areyvut.org/store individually or in bulk, or you can pick them up at the organization’s Bergenfield office by arrangement. The price of a single unit is $14; buying more than one lowers the price per unit.

“Some people underwrite it for their child’s school. You can purchase a box of 30 for $260. We’ve had a few takers from North Carolina to Vancouver,” Mr. Rothner said.

He encourages people to send feedback on social media or to info@areyvut.org about how they’ve used the calendar.

“Yesterday someone told us she spent a few minutes straightening up her office so the cleaning service will have less to do,” he said. “We appreciate the feedback and take it to heart.”

Jeremy J. Fingerman of Englewood, the CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp, is a big fan of the calendar. “Areyvut’s ‘A Kindness a Day’ Jewish desk calendar has helped remind me to make each day count and of the difference each of us, behaving like mensches, can make in our world today,” he said.

For more information, call (201) 244-6702 or email Areyvut at info@areyvut.org.

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