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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Empowering students through kindness

Tags: Jewish learning
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Modya Silver

TORONTO — Kindness Week, a program designed to empower students through acts of kindness, will engage hundreds of Toronto-area students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in an effort to address issues of stress, anxiety and isolation, while building school spirit and stronger community ties.

Modya Silver, a 52-year-old father of five with a 25-year background in marketing and technology, is the founder of Kindness Week, which will run for the first time from May 5 to 9.

Silver said his desire to do tikkun olam work and to try to inspire others to be kinder to one another was an evolutionary process.

“Part of the evolution was that I got very interested and passionate about the school of Mussar,” he said.

Mussar is a Jewish movement that focuses on character strength development, Silver explained.

“So I had a teacher for a number of years and we would work on a particular trait for at least a year and a half and when we got to the trait of kindness, of chessed, then it really spoke to me. There was this resonance, like, this was my trait, meaning that this was a trait that I needed to develop.”

He said he was inspired to start a website called Kuppah, which lists about 30 Jewish and/or Israeli charities to which one can chose to donate.

“Because I have a technology background it all made sense for me to build this website… but I wanted to get my hands dirtier and help people,” Silver said.

After running some local projects in the community, he decided to approach the Ontario Trillium Foundation for a grant.

He said their message to him was that he should think bigger.

“These projects that I was doing were beautiful, but they were only helping a limited number of people and it just seemed like I could do something even bigger than that and that is where Kindness Week came from,” Silver said.

“This is really about empowering students to showcase who they really are,” he said, adding that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) partnered with him on the event, as did a number of schools in York Region, and Jewish day schools including Tiferes Bais Yaakov, Associated Hebrew School’s Hurwich campus, and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

“Kindness Week isn’t about giving kids the opportunity to be kind, it’s really giving them a platform to showcase the kindness they already have and celebrating that kindness.”

Silver said this idea borrows from a relatively new psychological approach that focuses on nurturing positive traits rather than trying to eliminate negative ones.

“The school of positive psychology says… let’s just start building on the positive traits like kindness, compassion and love and empathetic joy and all those things,” Silver said.

“My thinking is that we have serious problems with students like bullying, stress, anxiety and depression and there are some wonderful organizations that deal with that. But maybe there is room for a new organization like mine to focus on building the positive traits for the kids who suffer from depression and anxiety and so on.”

Although this program is only in its first year, it has already garnered attention from Toronto City Council. On May 6, Toronto city councillors Joe Mihevc and James Pasternak will proclaim the week as Kindness Week.

Silver and his Kindness Week participants were also invited to take part in TDSB’s annual Social Justice Fair at York University on May 7, during which Kindness Week representatives will make a presentation to the head of the TDSB.

“A lot of the programming is going to be happening in the schools, like a school cleanup, or a whole class will write gratitude cards and then walk over to the local fire station or to their custodian or crossing guard, or whoever, and hand these gratitude cards to them,” Silver said.

“I was just working with a school this morning that might go to a grocery store and help people bag or carry the bags out to the car and load them in the car.”

Silver said that when some people learn about Kindness Week, they ask, ‘and then what?’

“We’re looking forward to a long-term relationship with the TDSB and in future years we want other school boards to be involved,” he said.

“I’m looking to evolve this into a charity that would focus on proactive engagement of students, and character strength development.”

For more information, visit www.kindnessweek.ca.

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