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I’m Ready to Start a Family Tzedakah Practice But I Don’t Know How

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Ted Chevalier

Last week for the Jewish Mother Project, I wrote about the importance of translating kindness into action, so this week I need to put my money where my mouth is and step up to the tzedakah plate box.

Tzedakah is one of the biggies in Judaism. Every year during the big YK (as I like to call Yom Kippur), we learn about the power of teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah to save our sinful souls. And just to be clear here, tzedakah isn’t charity. Tzedakah is justice. It’s fairness. It’s our job as human beings living on this crazy planet where the richest 62 people in the world have as much money as HALF of the rest of the population. (Pardon my acronym, but WTF?)

Tzedakah is Judaism’s way of reminding us that no matter how much we have (or don’t), we always have something to share. It’s our tradition’s way of helping us get out of our own stressed out, maxed out, worried minds and remember that there is always someone who has less than we do, and that sharing is way more than caring.

It is nothing less than a sacred duty.

READ: When I Became a Jew, I Committed to Social Justice—Now I Followed Through

My husband and I are pretty good about giving tzedakah (this past year we gave our largest donation to a clinic that provides medical, mental health, and social services to refugees and asylees in the Boston area), but the giving often happens in front of a computer after the girls have gone to sleep.

Somehow we just never got around to setting up a tzedakah practice with our daughters, and it’s high time we do that.

This is where you come in, my dear readers.

I need your help. I need details and hacks and suggestions and tips and tricks. Despite reading (and enjoying) Ron Lieber’s “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money,” I just never got my shit together to make those three jars for saving, spending, and giving. I’m terrible about remembering the girls’ allowance each week.

But this stuff matters, and I want to make it happen for our family. I didn’t grow up with this particular practice, and as they say, the devil is in the details. In our case, the devil is also in two small children who are hungry and tired at the end of a long week and often dissolve into Tears of Unknown Origin just as we are sitting down to Shabbat dinner. (I mention this because Friday night does seem like an ideal time to give tzedakah, except for the part where my daughters are losing their minds.)

So here are my questions, folks:

READ: Why Didn’t I Give That Homeless Man Money?

– Do you have a tzedakah practice?

– When do you do it?

– What tzedakah boxes do you use? Hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah) is one of my favorite Jewish traditions, and it seems particularly relevant here. I’m just not sure if we should let the girls decorate their own boxes, or pick one out from our local Judaica store, or what.

– Do you have a favorite blessing or prayer you like to say? I’m interested in both traditional blessings and modern interpretations or discussions.

– Do you use dollars or coins? Do you give a specific amount each week, or does it vary?

– How do you remember to have money around to give? (I have a hard enough time staying on top of my Tooth Fairy duties!).

– When the tzedakah boxes get full, do you hand over a bag of coins and bills to a charity? Do you count the money and write a check? And if so, what do you do with the money that was in the boxes?

– Do you have any other tips or tricks that have helped solidify this practice for your family?

READ: Teaching Tzedakah to Children

Thanks in advance!

Missed the last one? Check out past Jewish Mother Project posts here

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