Tzedakah: A Teachable Moment

July 31, 2013

By Rachel Greenspan, Early Childhood & Family Engagement Director

We all try to teach our kids about Tzedakah, (charity) why and how we do it, and inspire them to feel the responsibility and the mitzvah of Tzedakah. So, I wanted to share an experience we just had with our children – that became a teachable moment for us as much as them.

Each summer our JCC Summer Day Camps are involved in Tzedakah Thursdays.  It is a day where we collect wish list items for different social service agencies around Milwaukee; items such as toiletries, used purses, cans of food, Band-Aids, etc.  Individually we have made a difference; together we have made a HUGE impact.    Since the start of Tzedakah Thursdays, some new organizations have entered the mix and new partnerships were created.  But the interesting thing about Tzedakah is that while charity suggests benevolence or generosity, the root of the word actually signifies fairness and justice. In Judaism, giving is not viewed as generous or magnanimous, but simply a righteous act - the right thing to do.

Makes you think a little, doesn’t it? Tzedakah represents not what your heart moves you to do or share, but that which is expected of you - your obligation to others.

As we prepared to move furniture from our current Gan Ami Mequon location, to our new home at 1415 W. Donges Bay Road, it became apparent that we had many gently used classroom items that needed to find a good home.  We had repurposed as many items as we could throughout the JCC and of course we were happy to load up vehicles and drop off items at Goodwill, however, we had just spent weeks collecting items for the Cathedral Center, Children’s Hospital, the Jewish Community Pantry and Meta House.  So we thought to look at one of those organizations and see if they may need any of our gently used items. 

It was B’Shariet (meant to be).  A wonderful connection had been created between the Meta House through Tzedakah Thursdays earlier in the summer, and they were in need of our items.  Did you know besides supporting women, Meta House supports children & families?  The philosophy at Meta House serves the goal of supporting children, teaching parenting, rebuilding and strengthening families, and breaking the cycle of intergenerational substance abuse. Although Meta House coordinates child and family care with other agencies, Meta House is one of the only treatment centers in the state that allows children to live with their mothers in the residential treatment and housing programs and to receive intervention services. Child care is also provided at Meta House.

Meta House was in need of toys and games for their child care program and loved the idea of a visit to our current location to see what we may have available.  After a lengthy visit to Gan Ami Mequon and three car loads full of useful items, our building is emptier and ready for our move. The gently used items went to a new home where lots of love will be shared and our hearts are full because we had an opportunity to give in a meaningful way for all of us.    

Our original plan of preparing to pack and create a plan to involve the children as they prepare for the move to their new school lent itself to a teachable moment and a Tzedakah opportunity that will hopefully last a long time, similar to our partnership with Meta House.

So, regardless of your religion, here are some ideas for incorporating Tzedakah into your family’s everyday … and maybe your family’s customs throughout the year!

1. Tzedakah Box. Dating back thousands of years, the Tzedakah box was originally used to collect donations for repair of the Temple. Today, its presence represents an established Jewish household and it’s used to collect coins for a good cause. Purchase or use your family Tzedakah box or have your children make one.  Contribute to your box as a family and select a seasonal (or monthly!) recipient together.

2. Tzedakah Night. In lieu of holiday/birthday gifts…

      • As a family purchase items on a local nonprofit’s wish list and deliver them to the organization together.
      • Discuss the monetary value of the gifts that would have been distributed in your family that night and write and deliver a check together to an organization that has meaning to your family.
      • Sacrifice a gift.
      • Do a clean-up of your playroom and closets. Donate gently used items such as coats, toys or go through your pantry and deliver non-perishable items to your local food bank.

3. Day of Service. Select a day and volunteer as a family. There are so many options right here in the Milwaukee.