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Oct 13 2014

Why Didn’t I Give That Homeless Man Money?

By at 10:32 am

Homeless-man

His sign read simply, “I’m homeless–need help.” It was scribbled on a rumpled piece of cardboard with black marker. Growing up in Los Angeles, my children will see many curious things, just as I did. But that day, as I drove on Hollywood Boulevard with my son, I found myself entirely unprepared for how one otherwise ordinary interaction would impact me.

My son asked me to help him decipher the words on the sign. I strive for honesty, so I read them to him without edits. “What does that mean Mommy?” he asked.

I hesitated. After a considerable pause I replied cautiously, “It means that he doesn’t have anywhere to live and he is looking for something or someone to help him out.” I waited for the barrage of questions that often followed, but it never came. “Oh,” my son replied, and left it at that. Somehow my answer was sufficient to satisfy his inquisition, but I wondered if and when more questions would follow, and I felt anxious about how I would field them. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 12 2014

My Daughter Lost Interest in Shabbat When She Turned 3–So We Tweaked It

By at 1:11 pm

dancing-girl

We used to love Shabbat in our home. When my daughter was 2 years old we sang “Penny in the Pushke” while she put coins in the tzedakah (charity) box, swayed together to “Moving into Shabbos Time,” kvelled to watch her mirror her Ima’s motions for candle lighting, and melted when we rested our hands on her head to bless her. She loved the taste of grape juice and tearing a big hunk of challah when we finished HaMotzi (the blessing for bread). Every Friday evening felt richly relaxed.

Then our daughter turned 3, and our peaceful Shabbats steadily declined. She grew less patient with the blessings. She pulled on the challah so early the HaMotzi became “baruch ata… NOT YET… eloheinu… WAIT, DON’T PULL… HaOlam, HaMotzi–HEY, BRING THAT BACK!” She whined throughout the blessing over the wine, demanding to hold the grape juice herself. She had to be monitored every moment to not drink early or move in a way that would splash and stain. Our long musical Kiddush (blessing over the wine) was sung faster and faster, with less pleasure. During the meal she would dive under the table to visit our legs.

Worst of all–to us–was losing the blessing over our child. She started squirming beneath our hands, then running away until our once-intimate blessing turned into a chase around the apartment, and we were reduced to hurling the names of the matriarchs at our child’s back. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 8 2014

That Time I Almost Picked Up a Hitchhiker with the Kids in the Car

By at 3:52 pm

hitchhiking

I saw a hitchhiker this morning. It was a woman. She looked like she was in her mid-40s. Scraggly, blond hair, a tiny butterfly tattooed on her neck, a defeated look in her gray eyes.

My first instinct was to pick her up. In fact, I slowed down and pulled up so close that she slung her grungy backpack over her shoulder and started to move towards our car. The lines by her mouth rippled out into a tight lipped smile.

“Who is that, Mama?” Evi strained to get a better view. Read the rest of this entry →

May 21 2014

In Search of a Toddler-Friendly Mitzvah

By at 4:11 pm

diapers

How many of the 613 mitzvot can a toddler do? We have a PJ Library CD in the car my daughter likes listen to on repeat (please send us a new one soon, Mr. Grinspoon). One song called “Did a Mitzvah” to the tune of “Found a Peanut” includes such mitzvot as “hugged a sad friend” and “shared my Legos.” It has me thinking a lot about what a mitzvah really is (as opposed to common human decency). I also grapple with how can I appropriately instill the values of compassion and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) for my precocious 2.5-year-old.

I am no halachic (Jewish legal) scholar, but I am pretty sure that sharing your Legos isn’t technically a mitzvah. Giving tzedakah (charity) is a good one, but my little lady doesn’t get an allowance yet, and she doesn’t exactly know the value of money. My personal favorite double mitzvah of doing “it” on a Friday night, isn’t really pre-school appropriate conversation. So how do I explain what a mitzvah really is? I try and do a mitzvah with her.

Many synagogues are getting ready to engage their congregants in a Mitzvah Day this spring. Though one day of service in your community may not put an end to hunger and human injustice, every little bit we do helps. I like to think of Mitzvah Day as the gateway drug to continual volunteerism. Aside from Mizvah Day activities you may be able to join, these are two ideas for making a meaningful mitzvah with your toddler any day (or several days) of the year: Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 20 2014

My Daughter Has Way Too Many Toys. How Can I Raise Her To Appreciate What She Has?

By at 11:43 am

toys

Our daughter has the lucky advantage of being the first grandchild and having incredibly generous and thoughtful grandparents, aunties and uncles, and friends who have gifted her everything and more than a toddler could dream. She’s got toys, books, puzzles, stuffed animals, Legos, blocks, dolls, Play-Dough, art supplies galore, musical instruments, a kitchen set, a doll house, balls, a scooter, games, her very own swing-set outside in the backyard, and she’s only 2.5 years old!

Not only does she have more than she needs, she also has more than she can handle. She plays with maybe half of her toys, though she likes to pull 98 percent of them out when friends come over to play. I am nervous that we are setting a precedent and potentially creating a child who will feel super entitled and will want more, and more, and more, and NOW. How do we make sure she appreciates all that she has in the world? Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2014

Turns Out Shabbat and Valentine’s Day Have a Lot in Common

By at 11:43 am

shabbat

Tonight I’m planning dinner by candlelight. It will engage all five senses, with attention lavished on the tiniest details, including our wedding china instead of Corelle, and soup that requires a trip to the butcher instead of just a can opener. They say oysters are an aphrodisiac, but I’m banking on the kneidelach my husband likes: the firmer, the better. Ah, February 14th.

Isn’t this how Shabbat should always go?

My kids’ preschool director sent an email out reminding parents that “we celebrate love and caring all year long, but we do not celebrate Valentine’s Day at school.” Last V-Day, when my son found a cupcake in his cubby with the Post-It note reading “Baked with love in our kosher home,” he thought it was a happy coincidence.

No valentines, no candy hearts–would Friday be any fun? Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 21 2013

Friday Night: Repairing the World Means Helping People

By at 10:12 am

tikkun olam tedJoining PJ Library is one of the best things we’ve done as parents. Every month a new Jewish book arrives at our home and Lila learns about a Jewish holiday or concept through a story that’s meaningful to her. Several PJ Library books–like the Hanukkah counting book and the Dayenu”-centric Passover book–have become diaper bag must-haves, genuine favorites that we have read countless times. Perhaps because our experience has been so superlative, I was surprised by a disappointing recent selection.

Tikkun Olam Ted tells the story of a boy who is small in stature but does big things. He works to repair the world daily, and this storybook covers one presumably typical week. Each day, Ted does a different, vividly illustrated Tikkun Olam project. And whenever we finish the book, Lila enthusiastically chants, “’gain!,” eager for an encore reading.  Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 18 2012

A Hanukkah Without Presents: A Report From the Trenches

By at 4:29 pm

“On the first night of Hanukkah, my mommy gave to me,” my 13-year-old son began singing, as the 9-year-old and 5-year-old joined him in the chorus, “Absolutely no-ooooo-thing!”

Well, it’s not like they weren’t warned.

A good week before Hanukkah started, I informed my kids that, due to the damage done by Hurricane Sandy, with people not 50 miles away losing everything they owned, not to mention the high unemployment rate, the millions of people going hungry all around the world, and the fact that my children already had so much stuff they couldn’t even manage to keep their rooms clean, there would be no Hanukkah gifts this year. Instead, we would spend the eight days of the holiday doing good deeds, and the eight nights discussing them as we lit our candles. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 11 2012

The Fifth Night Project: Teaching Giving During Hanukkah

By at 11:15 am

box of toy donations for charityLet’s face it; in order to help Jewish children from feeling left out of the Christmas season, Hanukkah has lost much of it’s traditional meaning and has become a holiday based around eight nights of presents. Customarily, Hanukkah is celebrated with candles, dreidels, and latkes; the eight crazy nights of toys and books was only added to compete with Christmas. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 6 2012

I Never Liked Hanukkah, But I Do Like Tzedakah

By at 9:43 am

So–it’s almost Hanukkah, just about everyone’s favorite holiday. Gifts, gelt (Yidd., money), no fasting, no standing in shul for hours, no cooking for big family meals, nice lighting-the-menorah ritual.

Well, I never liked it. Despite the gifts, I didn’t like it even as a kid.

As a first generation American on my father’s side (especially grateful to this country since everyone who was not here were killed by the Nazis,) and a third generation American on my mother’s, I am a very patriotic American with a strong American identity.

But every Hanukkah, I felt like the “other.” Read the rest of this entry →

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