This Hebrew month of Cheshvan is considered somewhat of a downer. It is also called Marcheshvan, meaning “bitter Cheshvan,” as it contains no Jewish holidays. It’s the month between Simchat Torah and Chanukah.
In recent years, however, Cheshvan has become Rabbi Raphael Leban’s favorite month, as it coincides with November, the month of Clean Speech Colorado, a program of The Jewish Experience, of which Leban is managing director.
Clean Speech Colorado, Leban’s brainchild, kicked off in 2019, focusing on the concept of leshon hara, being careful not to speak harmful words about others.
The second campaign in 2020 — in the throes of the pandemic year — was about ona’at devarim, “how we communicate with each other in the second person, to be careful not to cause discomfort, embarrassment or offense,” as Leban puts it.
Last year’s campaign, “Oseh Shalom — Words of Peace,” explored the goal of speaking peacefully.
Clean Speech Colorado is currently being presented for the fourth year with the theme “Words of Love — Ahavas Chesed.”
“We move onto recognizing that there is an even closer degree of relationship that we can all have with one another when we’re not just trying to keep the peace, but trying to draw close or trying to build a relationship,” explains Leban, “and we’re trying to be focused more on the experience of the other person than on our own, to make sure that the person we’re speaking to is benefiting from the conversation.”
Chesed, or lovingkindness, Leban says, “is about giving. We give with every word we say, and thereby can create love.”
Each day during November, Clean Speech Colorado is releasing two-and-a-half-minute videos featuring members of the Colorado Jewish community each explaining a different aspect of building loving relationships though words.
The curriculum touches on different kinds of love — romantic, parents and children, other family members, friends and even strangers.
To access the videos, one can go to cleanspeechcolorado.org to download the app or sign up for the daily lessons to arrive via email.
After viewing each lesson, the viewer is invited to answer a question based on the lesson’s content.
Respondents are entered into drawings for tickets to the Clean Speech finale event on Wednesday, Nov. 30, featuring a live talk show with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and rapper Nissim Black.
The campaign also provides materials for Jewish day schools and religious schools to incorporate into their lesson plans during November.
From its very beginning in 2019, Clean Speech took Colorado by storm. Not only did it bring an important subject into the public square, it motivated individual Colorado Jews to become better versions of themselves, while unifying Jewish organizations across the state in a way that had never been done before.
Once word of Clean Speech Colorado got out beyond Colorado, other Jewish communities took notice, and now Clean Speech has, as they say, gone viral. This year, New York City, Chicago, University of Illinois (Champaign), Cleveland, Cincinnati and Ottawa, Canada are running the 30-day Clean Speech program this month.
In February, 2023, Los Angeles, Omaha and the United Kingdom will run the program in their communities.
Aish HaTorah of St. Louis is still flying high from its experience of presenting Clean Speech Volume 1 this past March.
“We started this program a little daunted by the magnitude of it,” says Rabbi Yosef David, director of Aish HaTorah of St. Louis.
“It’s something that everybody across the board embraced the need for — for something to be done about the current levels of speech, of negativity, of destructive speech.”
Leban and the Clean Speech Colorado staff instruct the other communities how to present the program and provide the curriculum and scripts for the daily video lessons.
It is up to the participating communities to recruit their local organizations to provide personalities to appear in the videos and rally interest among their members.
As was the case in Colorado, David says in St. Louis, “just about every Jewish organization across the spectrum of the Jewish community that we approached was thrilled to hear about it.”
In addition to the daily videos, Clean Speech St. Louis shared the material in print form and through curricula for school-age children “to make it real through role-playing skits and challenges.”
David was gratified by the interest in Clean Speech shown by the media in St. Louis. David and Aish HaTorah education director Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald appeared on the Dave Glover radio talk show.
“We got quite a few minutes to explain what it was all about and give some examples. We were also invited on to TV to talk about it.”
Rabbi David expresses tremendous appreciation for Rabbi Leban “who pioneered and really was the one who came up with this idea and worked so hard on making it a reality in Colorado. If not for that, we would not be doing it here.”