PRACTICING THE ACT OF TZEDAKAH.
By Jen Karetnick
A tenet in contemporary education goes something like this: Tell me how to do it, and I won’t learn; show me how to do it, and I may learn; do it with me, and I will surely learn.
That same theory holds true for Jewish education, especially when it comes to tzedakah. You can lecture about donating to charity, feeding the less fortunate and helping the needy until you turn as blue as Chanukah wrapping paper. But your children won’t necessarily comprehend the concept until they actually perform tzedakah. Personal understanding is precisely what Anat Garzon, co-founder of the Kids for JCS Kosher Food Bank, was seeking. “As a mother and as a Jewish mother, I want to teach my children to give,” said the mother of three whose children attend Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami-Dade. “You can tell them to give, but that’s not how they learn. They learn by doing.” The concept of giving, added Sharon Rudman, the other founder, is an integral part of Jewish life.
“The idea is to start them young,” Rudman said, “so that when they grow up, giving is like breathing. They start now by bringing a can of food. When they’re adults, they can finance a program.” In its third year, Kids for Kosher Food Bank began with one bin at Hillel after Garzon approached Jewish Community Services to see how she could help. She already donated nonperishable food items and often brought her children along to the JCS Kosher Food Bank, but she envisioned a bigger project that kids of all ages could participate in. She and Rudman also wanted to make it easy and affordable for families.
“Everybody can bring in at least one thing,” Garzon said, “even from your family’s own pantry.” Pinchos Hecht, Hillel’s head of school, thought the idea was a “perfect opportunity” to teach his students the lesson of charity. “The purpose of Jewish education is to connect the holy to the good,” he said. “And this project does that. You’re also building a culture of future service and leadership.”
Now dozens of bins with the handprint-logo of JCS Kosher Food Bank for Kosher Food Bank have been placed not only in Hillel classrooms but also in 13 other Miami-Dade schools and in Brauser Maimonides Academy located in Broward County. The bins are collected on a monthly basis and field trips are arranged once or twice a year so that the children can visit the JCS Kosher Food Bank to see how their contributions help families in need. An added benefit: “Usually it’s the parents who involve the kids,” Rudman said. “But this initiative is different. The children bring in the parents and initiate the giving.”
Interestingly, once the kids get involved with a project they enjoy, such as the JCS Kosher Food Bank for Kosher Food Bank, they don’t want to stop. This is the case for three long-time friends –Tamar Tangir, Shanna Lewinsky and Sabrina Abadi. The girls, all of whom attend different schools (Brauser Maimonides Academy, Aventura Waterways and University School, respectively) but share the Presidential Estates neighborhood in North Miami Beach. The three friends started a bat-mitzvah project to fulfill the duty of becoming Jewish adults. They would sell bracelets and necklaces, made in Colombia with their own Child Cancer Cure logo on them, as well as dozens of roses, to raise money for organizations that help search for the cure of cancer.
In nine months, by selling their goods at the JCC, at their schools, to their family members and to their neighbors, the girls have managed to raise $13,000—nearly half of which went to the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel to help support research in the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department and the other half to Cure Search, the biggest non-profit foundation that raises money for the Children’s Oncology Group, the largest research entity in the world. The girls put $1,000 aside for Chai Life to build a fun room. Kids who have cancer, after all, need laughter as well as medicine. The sales have been so successful that Ruthie Lewinsky, Shanna’s mother, notes, “The project is going to continue and hopefully it will become a non-profit foundation.”
Finally, at Miami Country Day School, a third group has recently sprouted. Dubbed the Jewish Student Association, the club has a two-fold purpose: to run Jewish-themed activities and culturaleducational events, and to participate in various community mitzvahs, including holding a Hanukah toy drive and visiting the sick monthly at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Miami Jewish Health Systems. The JSA has also partnered with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation to further develop ideas for exposure and outreach.
One member of the new club, Nicole Farchi-Segal, said, “We are really excited about this club and grateful for the opportunity to get together and celebrate our heritage as well as help our community.” No doubt, like those who have gone before them, she and her fellow JSA members will soon find themselves addicted to tzedakah— when giving back truly has become, as Sharon Rudman noted, the equivalent of drawing breath.