Teaching Tzedakah to Children

Using your common cents.

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The Decision is Yours         

When a child or even a family chooses to collect tzedakah, the excitement lies not just in the collecting but in the determination of the worthiest cause. If your child has a clear interest in a particular organization, collect for that cause. If you aren't yet sure, collect ideas and have a vote to choose between three or four when your tzedakah box is full. If you can't decide on just one, give to more than one. A child who is empowered to choose will make an ethically grounded decision, and will more likely feel a deep connection to both the cause and the process.

Make Giving a Ritual                

In order to become an instinctive and proactive behavior, children must find a way to ritualize the giving of tzedakah. Some families choose to empty pockets into the tzedakah box each night before bedtime. Others put change into the pushke before lighting candles on Shabbat. Choose the space and time that you would like and make it a part of your family's routine. Judaism uses time and ritual to sanctify the ordinary:  you can do so as well by creating a regular time and ritual for giving tzedakah.

Keep Your Mail   

Each year, your mailbox likely fills up with hundreds of pieces of bulk mail soliciting funds for various charitable organizations. Save one or two from each organization. When your tzedakah box is full, go through the envelopes and research these organizations together. Allow your child to make the decision or vote for your family's choice.

Count                   

A heavy tzedakah box is a sign of "mission accomplished."  Part of accomplishing that mission, however, is determining how much is actually in the box.  Teach counting and addition to younger children and multiplication to older children by counting the coins together. For added (but less educational) fun, take your pushke to a bank with a counting machine and let them do all the work.

Ask for Acknowledgement

When you and your family are ready to send your contribution to the recipient of your choice, include a note from your child explaining why he or she chose this cause. Most organizations will send a return letter with a brochure and special thank you, personalizing the acknowledgement and making it even more meaningful to your child.

Start Over            

Once you've completed a cycle, start again. Continue to collect for one cause or support another, and take your child's lead. The rituals that you have created with your family can become a natural and beloved part of your family's routine, infusing your family's search for justice in the world with the mitzvah of tzedakah.

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Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Sara Shapiro-Plevan serves as the Coordinator of Congregational Education for New York City for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.