Disagreements over politics have divided Americans’ homes, strained marriages, ruined friendships, and infiltrated the workplace. In a few days, we begin the 365-day countdown to the 2020 election, sure to become even more contentious and divisive.
The entire Jewish community in Colorado is seeking to change this harmful dynamic in the way they communicate with each other. Starting this Friday, the community will embark on a month-long campaign to clean up a different kind of environment — words that harm and divide.
On November 1, the Jewish Experience, a Denver-based educational outreach organization will launch Clean Speech Colorado (cleanspeechcolorado.org ), a Colorado community-wide awareness month centered on how individuals and communities, speak to and about one another. This campaign is the only statewide effort of its kind and could serve as a role model to states across the country, and communities worldwide.
Spearheaded by Rabbi Raphael Leban, head of the Jewish Experience, Clean Speech Colorado is a unique initiative that has brought together an unprecedented number of Jewish organizations (almost 60!) throughout the State for this education and awareness initiative. “The unprecedented broad reach of organizations wanting to partner on this effort is a tribute to the timeliness of this important initiative,” says Leban.
“Perhaps now more than ever, the growing divisiveness and disunity in society at large and within the Jewish community seriously undermines our regard for one another and our ability to remain respectful, united, and connected.”
“Our mission is to improve the way Jewish people in Colorado speak to and about one another through a community awareness month of the time-honored Jewish value of Guarding One’s Tongue, in an approachable, relevant way, to engender Shalom (peace) throughout the broader community,” said Rabbi Leban.
The idea was something Leban has had brewing for a while, but after the last presidential election, he saw a lot of bitterness and strife in the community and broader populace. He heard story after story of family members not speaking to each other, divided by anger and differences, “where bitter recrimination and malicious speech seem to have become commonplace.” “It’s a time-honored important value to communicate with respect and dignity,” says Leban. “I really don’t want to hear another story of a family broken apart — family members not speaking to one another because of the bitter tone of vitriol between them over politics,” said Leban.
To date, there are almost 60 Jewish organizations partnering on this project. Some of heads of these groups have never met, don’t always agree, but are 100% on board for this effort. Like Rabbi Leban, they are noticing the same divisions and disrespect in communication among the community. “They are all participating in one beautiful idea,” said Leban.
“At the root of the issue is the tone of the discourse, in both public and private spheres. When character defamation, denigration and insult pervade the conversation, we have crossed the line from healthy discussion to division, disdain and hatred. Within our heritage and tradition there are guidelines for acceptable and non-acceptable communication. We must educate ourselves, both personally and as a community, and cleanse our speech of denigrating or harmful words (lashon hara).”
The goal is two-fold: to educate the community about the importance of clean speech and to create an initiative that brings the entire community together. Leban hopes to discourage “hurtful or harmful speech” and to encourage people to respect each other’s differences, to find common ground to interact with civility instead of hostility.
30-Day Campaign: (starting November 1 and running through the month with a series of events and materials that are free of charge)
As the flagship educational resource, Clean Speech Colorado will distribute a 2 Minute Lesson-a-Day, to serve as a framework for the month-long initiative. The material will be distributed in print, by email, on social media and the web, in written, audio and video formats.
Will provide weekly discussion starters, curricula for day schools, Sunday schools, youth groups, and the work-place, as well as tips for family discussions and discord.
- Events and Programs throughout the Month:
Experiential learning events with guest speakers such as well known author, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Michael Rothschild, founder of the Chofeitz Chaim Heritage Foundation and others from out of town.
Group learning sessions with local educators will provide live, educational opportunities during the month.
Synagogues throughout the State have signed up to participate and will provide additional programming.
Given that Colorado is a known leader for a cleaner environment, so too, this campaign seeks to clean up the words that can denigrate and pollute our social environment to improve the quality of life for us and our children’s future.
“Clean Speech Colorado is not just about what we say. It’s about who we are. It’s a simple principle: If we remove negativity, gossip, slander, and divisiveness from our vocabulary, we automatically and dramatically improve our own lives and the lives of everyone around us. We can make a difference and create a more peaceful and unified community one word at a time.”
“With Clean Speech Colorado we have the opportunity to create a blueprint for use that could be replicated for communities around the world,” said Leban.