Becky Simkovich woke up on the morning of Nov. 8 excited to begin the Jewish month of Kislev, which is traditionally marked by the theme of bringing light into darkness and the celebration of Chanukah. She then learned of the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, that left 13 people dead.
“I got into my car and heard about the shooting and it shook me,” explained the Kemp Mill, Maryland, resident, pediatric occupational therapist, and mom of two. “It just felt like it was one horrible thing after another and I wanted to create a way to help generate good feelings, good energy and kindness, and move it throughout the community.”
Simkovich had the idea of creating a calendar that would challenge people to do one small act of kindness each day and reached out to longtime friend and fellow Kemp Mill resident Sarah Sicherman.
“My immediate response to Becky was ‘yes, definitely,’ as there is no doubt that doing kind things is what the world needs right now,” explained Sicherman, who has worked as the managing director at Ignite: Action, a local marketing agency that focuses on purpose-driven campaigns, for two years. “We went back and forth throughout the day developing content and brainstorming on how we can make it appeal to everyone, regardless of if they were Jewish or not Jewish. Kindness is a Jewish value but it’s also a human value.”
Sicherman enlisted the help of graphic designer Adina Moses, also of Kemp Mill, to put together the calendar and website; on Nov. 9 the #KislevisforKindness campaign was officially launched on Facebook. Sicherman and Simkovich used their large social networks and connections at local Federations, synagogue boards, and schools to get the word out about their campaign for kindness.
Upon seeing the overwhelming response to the campaign and calendar, the two created an email newsletter to send people a daily act of kindness in their inbox as well as a #KislevisforKindness Facebook group where participants can post about potential opportunities for kindness and share their own photos of their good deeds. To date, the #KislevisforKindness website has had more than 3,800 visitors, 250 members in the Facebook group, and nearly 200 newsletter subscribers.
“We’re amazed by how quickly it has spread and how much enthusiasm there has been,” said Simkovich. “Right away we had people saying yes, we’re in it, let’s do this.”
Kemp Miller Shuli Tropp explained that she made the decision to have her family participate in #KislevisforKindness to not only spread happiness (and lots of homemade cookies) and joy in the community, but also as an educational moment for her four daughters.
“This campaign is a great opportunity to talk to my kids about how blessed we are and how we need to make sure we are kind and help people around us,” said Tropp, who along with other Maryland area families provided a Thanksgiving meal for residents at the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda. “My kids have been really into it and ask about the next day’s kindness.”
Moving beyond the Maryland and DC area, the #KislevisforKindness campaign has been adapted to fit multiple synagogues, Chabads, schools, and universities across the nation including Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh.
Most notably, The Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh chose to take on the #KislevisforKindness campaign to honor the memory of the victims from the Oct. 27 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. Additionally, they asked 10 other schools to take on the challenge with them and help spread the message of the campaign across the state.
“They wanted to do good deeds and honor the memory of the people they had lost in their community. It was really amazing and they just had this really exciting energy,” said Simkovich.
With the end of the month of Kislev in sight, the two are already working on keeping the energy from the campaign going.
“We’d like to continue to create more partnerships both within and outside of our community and we want to set up more regular ways to do kindness. We’re also thinking about a curriculum-based program about Kislev and this theme of kindness and want to find ways where we can make it part of the way we educate our children,” explained Simkovich.
On a personal level, the #KislevisforKindness campaign showed both Sicherman and Simkovich how easy and important it is to be kind.
“The campaign has helped me and others realize how easy it is to make these small acts of kindness a part of your everyday life,” said Sicherman. “Our biggest goal was to have kindness become a part of the everyday mindset and as we move out of this month of Kislev I’m confident that we were successful in this.”
“When we did the post on that first evening, one of the reasons it was so successful was because after the shootings in Pittsburgh and then California people were looking for something to connect to,” explained Simkovich. “The campaign was an easy way for people to find this connection and the next step was putting clicks and likes into action to see kindness happening. It’s fun and inspiring to know that small thoughts and actions can actually turn into a big movement. It’s beautiful and encouraging.”
To learn more about #KislevisforKindness, visit kislevisforkindness.com
By Emily Minton
Emily Minton is a freelance journalist and copy editor in Washington, D.C.