When I was little, kids used to walk around the neighborhood asking for funds for everything from the PTA to the girl scouts. We used to have tzedakah or charity boxes (pushkes) in our homes where we would drop coins to plant trees in Israel or to support Hadassah Hospital.
I was so good at it that my brother and sister made me go knocking on doors for their fundraising challenges as well. I resented it at the time, but now it is amusing to think how young I was when I received my first training as a social worker.
Parents don’t let little kids wander around the neighborhood anymore and it is harder to find pushkes.
Did you know that Jews don’t have a word for charity? The word we use is tzedakah, which actually means justice. Giving to the poor is a moral requirement; it is a way of viewing the world that says that in order to have a just society, we each have an obligation to do what we can.
So how do we pass on these values? How do we not just force our offspring to be charitable but inspire them to have a charitable heart and soul? I’ve heard so many ideas over the years that I thought I’d share.
• Talk about it all the time
• Give an allowance where 10 percent comes off the top for tzedakah
• Take kids for an experience — deliver meals, visit a senior facility
• Dedicate one night of Chanukah to tzedakah and let your children identify the charity
• Go through toys on an annual basis and ask if your children will need and play with the toys as much as a child who has very little.
• Match any donation your child makes
• Make things for children in the hospital
• Donate old clothing to a resale shop that supports good causes
• Donate old blankets and towels to an animal shelter
• Instead of birthday gifts, make a donation in the recipient’s name
• Write checks to causes you care about and share that information with your offspring
• Attend and participate in fundraisers
• Consider opening a Donor Advised Fund for your older offspring to encourage their philanthropy
• Leave funds in your will to the community and consider directing funds for your offspring to designate
Making a difference feels good! Working with friends and family to make a difference adds a whole additional dimension to your life.
One year I had a birthday party and asked everyone to make a contribution supporting a ballot initiative in California supporting gay marriage. We raised over $2,500. It was the most wonderful birthday party I’ve ever had because we were able to do something so meaningful together.
Making a difference can truly be a celebratory, bonding experience. Not only does it make you and your loved ones feel good, but it deepens our relationship with our community, making us feel part of a greater whole. And that’s just wonderful.
Tracy Salkowitz, MSW, is CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. She blogs at tracystreks.com. More JCF information: jcftucson.org, Facebook, Twitter and 577-0388.