Helping people, one text at a time

From left to right: Shai Margulies, Niv Leibowitz, Noach Lerman, Jonnel Hector, Liora Guberman, Shayna Kagan, Alexa Blotax. Photo by Samantha Cooper

Every morning this month, students, faculty and parents of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy have been able to start the day with an educational text on halachah, or Jewish law.

“Judaism is pet friendly! Make sure to feed your pet before you eat breakfast. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avadim 9:8).”

It’s the brainchild of eight sophomores and juniors at the Rockville day school enrolled in the national Jewish Unity Mentoring Program. JUMP, as the program is usually called, asks participants to find a problem in their community and come up with a solution.

The Berman delegation of the program, which aims to train and empower high schoolers from across the country, had to find a solution to a problem in their community and educate others.

The Berman JUMP team had noticed that there is no place that the school focuses on halachah alone. Their answer: Helpful Halacha, a service that texts a new teaching each morning.

“One thing we thought of, is although our school and our teachers do teach halachah, in various ways, we don’t have a set class specifically designed to teach us Jewish law,” said Shai Margulies, 16. “And so we made this program just to have something that’s focused specifically on halachot.”

“Helpful Halacha is very centered around Jewish education. We are providing information that they might not get in any other way and we’re making it easy for them to access the information just by signing up really easily to our program and receiving this information daily,” Shai added.

The group came up with and discarded a few ideas before they hit on the texts.

“First we had an idea for an app that would shut off your phone for all of Shabbat, so you don’t go on it on Shabbat,” said Niv Liebowitz, 15.

They also thought about organizing an interfaith conference, but realized that neither of these ideas was educational.

Since the group sent its first text on Feb. 4, the service has gained around 250 subscribers. They’ve spread the word with flyers, text and word of mouth. The group hopes eventually to expand Helpful Halacha beyond the school.

Every night, the group decides which text they will send out the next morning and schedules it on a mass-text messaging website, which sends it out for them. They reach out to rabbis for ideas.

The team plans to change out the theme of the texts. For the first few weeks, the theme was morning halachah. The current theme is lashon hara, or gossip.

JUMP is sponsored by the Orthodox youth movement NCSY. Five teams will be chosen as finalists on March 10. One of them will be announced as winner in April.

Meanwhile, the team is texting out a steady stream of Jewish knowledge.

“That’s neat thing about our program. There’s no other program that gives you halachah in a short interesting way,” Shai said. The JUMP team hopes that if enough people sign up, they can create a website to educate more.

To join, text the phrase “dailyhalacha” to 94253.

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