A Real Mensch

Dana Hall '07
Photo by Stacy Newman
Dana Hall '07

Some singles prefer to pursue romance the old-fashioned way: on a blind date or over a dirty martini at a darkly lit mahogany bar. Not so Dana Hall ’07. This San Francisco alumna, along with a friend, dreamed up a scheme worthy of a Mel Brooks production to meet Bay Area Jewish men.

The plan? To broadcast a call for eligible and preferably hunky San Francisco Jewish singles to feature in a 2012 “Mensch of the Month” calendar. The idea caught on faster than an introduction at a speed-dating event. Within hours of creating a Twitter account, a Facebook group and a blog, Hall found herself on the phone with a reporter from the Jewish Daily Forward, describing the ideal candidates: Bay Area singles who were “chosen, not taken.”

But what started as a crazy idea to meet local Jewish men turned into a way for Hall and her friend, Elizabeth Shapiro, to support a San Francisco tutoring organization at which they regularly volunteer.

Hall, 27, says she never fathomed the calendar idea would take off as it did — with news stories in major Jewish publications, more than 40 male applicants jockeying for their own months, and the calendar selling out while orders piled up. In December, Hall and Shapiro donated $1,900 in proceeds from calendar sales and other fundraising efforts to the SMART (Schools, Mentoring and Resource Team) program, where Hall and Shapiro tutor and mentor underprivileged middle-school students.

To be considered, calendar candidates had to answer a battery of questions like, “What makes a mensch?” “What is your favorite Jewish food?” and “Who is your Jewish celebrity crush — other than Natalie Portman?” But determining who is a mensch, a person of integrity and honor in Yiddish culture, was about more than good looks, says Hall. The two picked 11 men and one lesbian, who told Hall and Shapiro that she wanted to help redefine Jewish masculinity. The group included a graphic designer at Apple who founded an action network, a graduate student who mentors kids at a YMCA and built homes in a Peruvian village, and a fellow SMART tutor.

“We were looking for people of substance, which to us meant being involved in volunteering or a similar passion,” says Hall. They shot the photos themselves and relied on family and friends to get the calendars designed and printed last fall. The calendars sold out at $20.12 a pop during a launch party in December, along with “I’m a mensch” stickers and other products to raise funds for SMART.

An international and global studies and history double major at Brandeis, Hall credits her time in Waltham with nurturing a passion to change the world. “Brandeis influenced who I am today,” the Cheltenham, Pa., native says. She’s spent the last two and a half years at the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks as a marketing and communications associate.

Hall and Shapiro already plan to catch up with the mensches later this year, posting updates to their blog to “see what their year was like — whether being a mensch changed anything.”

Hall, clearly a mensch in her own right, is already planning the 2013 calendar with Shapiro. She says many of the featured mensches did land dates after the calendar came out. Hall, however, is still “chosen, not taken.”

— Alex Bloom