Awareness Into Action

habits that lastThe convergence in September of the High Holidays and Hunger Action Month is one reason JFS holds its  Community-Wide Food Drive in the fall. The response to the annual Food Drive is wonderful, and the donations help us address food insecurity in our community.

But many people don’t realize the tons of food collected each year during the Food Drive stock our shelves for only a month. In the same vein, people often don’t realize that the self-reflection of the High Holidays is meant as a jump-start to a process that will be on-going.

Often people decide to wait until they can do something “big” or “impactful” and miss the message of this awareness month. The goal of a food drive, or holiday rituals, is to create habits of the heart, which lead to habits of the hand, that by definition, never end. Daily, ongoing actions matter in ways we can’t foresee.

Adults often ask me, as a Jewish educator, how to instill values of caring action in the next generation. “What curriculum should we use? What powerful experience will educate them?” After nearly four decades of teaching, I’ve found the answer is extremely simple and the execution more demanding.

Nurturing the souls of young people to open in compassion and kindness requires that we first nurture our own souls in those same values.

Our job — for our children and ourselves — is to develop habits that last beyond a particular holiday or drive. What could that look like in practice?

Every day, check on at least one neighbor or friend who is hurting. Every day.

Every time you go shopping, buy an extra item for the Food Bank. Every time.

Every payday, when a check arrives, take a percentage out for tzedakah. Every payday.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “What we need more than anything else is not textbooks, but text people.” He understood that we are all teachers for each other. Every day.  He knew that the “curriculum” unfolds in each moment, through our actions.

Habits matter, beginning at a young age. And yet, the reason JFS has an annual Food Drive and the reason Judaism provides an annual period of intense self-reflection is because habits are not easy to form. We become distracted. We forget. We mean well, but we need a reminder.

As a child, I was fortunate to witness the habits of caring in the behavior of my parents and other adults in my life. There was no curriculum or big event. There was just the daily involvement of my parents and others in the life of the community.

It was not lost on me that when my family needed support, the community was there for us too. They were involved in the lives of others, in all their richness, as they happened. Every day.

The traditional Jewish texts I studied later in life supplemented the life lessons my parents taught through example. But the events and curricula we desire are simply commentary to be used as guides and reminders, in a context of daily caring and of action.

By Beth Huppin
Beth is the Director of JFS Project Kavod/Dignity. She has enjoyed teaching Judaics to children and adults of all ages in both formal and informal settings for over 30 years. She is the recipient of a 2010 National Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

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