By Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Manager and Terry Wunder, Senior Program Director

What do Michelle Obama’s book tour, watching Star Wars, and knitting have in common? They’re social programs that have been turned into fun Jewish programs by inventive MHWOW hosts!

This month, we’re recognizing hosts who took programs that could have been social and instead turned them into learning opportunities, service projects, and more. This year we made the decision to only support programs with Jewish content, and we’ve been so impressed with how creatively you’ve brought Judaism and Tikkun Olam into what you already do with your friends.

Are you struggling to build Jewish content into your programs in an engaging way? Just like “there’s an app for that,” there’s a Jewish resource or activity for virtually any topic, and we’re here to help you find it! There’s no challenge we enjoy more than, “Can you find me a Jewish resource about hunting?” Email your MHWOW staff person for Jewish texts and concepts that can make your gatherings memorable.

Best Practices for Meaningful Programs

Putting the Jewish in Jewish Holidays

Hanukkah can be more than latkes and dreidels, just like Purim can be more than costumes and alcohol. Returning to the story and themes that shape each holiday can bring you plenty of program ideas. Hanukkah: manifesting light or feeling gratitude for the miracles in our lives. Purim: storytelling, combating antisemitism, or appreciating Jewish female heroines.

Sharing our Gifts

Many of us are fortunate to be able to buy books, clothes, bikes, and more. When reflecting on our programs, let’s ask ourselves: Does everyone have the privilege of participating in activities like this? If the answer is no, then there’s probably a way to turn it into a Tikkun Olam program!

You can add a book drive to your book club. Host a clothing swap and donate some clothes to a local charity. Go biking and learn about the brave women in Pakistan who bike despite society’s resistance.

Program Spotlights

Identity programs

Brooklyn Jewish A Cappella Group
Lisa Fierstein, New York, NY

We will be discussing and singing Jewish music, learning about each other’s Jewish identities, and discussing this quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

“There is something profoundly spiritual about music. When language aspires to the transcendent, and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song. Jewish history is not so much read as sung.”

Women in Leadership & Michelle Obama
Rebecca Powell, Washington, DC

“First, we will gather to discuss Jewish perspectives on leadership and the representation of women in leadership roles in Jewish history as well as American history. With that lens, we will then go see Michelle Obama speak as part of her book tour. While Obama is not Jewish, we will discuss her role in empowering women in leadership and how her particular initiatives relate to Jewish values.”

Check out Rebecca’s discussion guide that focuses on Jewish heroines in the Torah: Ruth, Naomi, Miriam, and Devorah.

Chinese New Year Shabbat Dinner
Yael Klausner, New York, NY

“The event will be a Shabbat dinner, featuring a Jewish staple, Chinese food, as well as an opportunity to learn more about the Chinese New Year (observed by some earlier that week).

Additionally, [we will] take the opportunity to learn more about the Chinese New Year, how its celebrated by some Asian Jews, and how the ideas of the holiday are parallel to or different from ideas in Judaism and similar Jewish holidays.

I will be working with closely with Asian and Jewish friends and family to ensure cultural sensitivity, as well as a mindfulness to ensure the program is one of learning and discovery, and not appropriation or insensitivity.”

Media

Episode I: The Phantom Cholent Shabbos
Jeremy Levin, Chicago, IL

“I’m asking guests to remove their phones at the door and to be present for quality Shabbat time with friends, board games, and Star Wars jokes that I don’t understand. This crew loves Star Wars and I’m just trying to keep up. Thought it would be fun to provide Jewish learning through Star Wars throughout the evening.”

Broad City and Jewish Humor: Why do we love it?
Rachel Gilfarb, Columbus, OH

“Why are Jews always laughing? Come explore, laugh, and discuss with fellow Jews over a Broad City episode screening and two articles concerning Jews, humor, and why the two are sometimes inseparable.”

Putting the Active in Activities

Spiritual Hike
Vlad Plotkin, Charlotte, NC

My friend and fellow MHWOW host Vlad Plotkin led us on a hike at Morrow Mountain in North Carolina followed by a discussion framed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary on Judaism and the environment. Here’s a snippet:

“The Torah is concerned with what we would nowadays call ‘sustainability.’ On the Sabbath all agricultural work is forbidden, ‘so that your ox and your donkey may rest’ (Exodus 23:12). It sets a limit to our intervention in nature. We become conscious that we are creations, not just creators. The earth is not ours but God’s. We may perform no ‘work,’ which is to say, an act that alters the state of something for human purposes. The earth too is entitled to its periodic rest.”

Tikkun Olam

Knitting and Crocheting for the Homeless
Haley Schulman, New York, NY

“I’m gathering a small group of people to knit and crochet hats and scarves to give out to homeless folks in New York this winter.”

Yad Shnia Clothing Swap
Lauren Fisher, Somerville, MA

“This is a kibbutz style second hand clothing drive. We will have a conversation about the kibbutz movement and how alternative economic systems in Israel enables the social democratic infrastructure of the state before start up nation. All clothing donated will be given to Second Chances, a local charity that works with Somerville shelters.”

Shoutouts to Jordana Holden, Chani Bockwinkel, and many more for also hosting resource swaps!

You know what else MHWOW hosts love? Books! MHWOW hosts put on 34 book club programs in 2018! Take a page out of Brandi Applebaum’s book and turn your club into a book drive to donate your gently used books to charity.

Book Drive
Brandi Applebaum, Boca Raton, FL

Congratulations to all of you for the experiences you’re creating. MHWOW programs just keep getting better and better, and showing off your work gives us life. Email your MHWOW staff person if there’s a program you’d like to share!