January 25, 2019

Mini Musings - Tzedakah - Repairing the World Through Giving

by Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Cultures

The Jewish value of Tzedakah, which we translate on our School’s values poster as “Giving to Others,” is a very hard idea to translate into English. While often understood as “charity,” the Hebrew root of “Tzedakah” also means “justice.” Tzedakah requires us to recognize the injustices and imbalances in the world and to act out of obligation to rebalance the scales.  

We strive to teach our students that there is not one season or one way to do Tzedakah. Rather, giving to those in need to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, discrimination, environmental disaster, and war is something that we are responsible for throughout the year and throughout our lives. 

Our service learning curriculum focuses on three different ways that students may actively live lives that include tzedakah: direct service, indirect service, and advocacy. Examples of direct service are when Middle School students make meals and hand them out to those who are hungry at the Good Samaritan Program, or provide meals to families at the VA Fisher House or Ronald McDonald House whose loved ones are receiving medical treatments. Our all-school community participates in indirect service through our annual traditions of Brownies-in-a-Bag and 2 Cans for 2 Hands, which raise money and food donations for the Utah Food Bank and the Jewish Family Service food pantry, respectively. And, when our students write letters to elected officials or ask parents not to idle their cars, they are practicing tzedakah by being advocates.  

The social justice work that our students participate in lives within the context of their curriculum. When our second graders lead our all-school food drive, it is part of learning about food systems, the food safety network, and food waste in our community. When our third graders donate change to their classroom tzedakah box, it is in the context of learning about the needs of refugees and the communities from which they come that were devastated by civil war. The projects that our faculty choose for our students to participate in are chosen because they support our students’ learning and the larger community. We are committed to our efforts being mutually beneficial for students’ learning and our larger community. 

We are also committed to creating a year-long calendar of projects that enhances learning without creating donor fatigue for students or their families. A number of years ago, we looked at our calendar and realized that we had three different tzedakah projects going on in November/December. “No wonder everyone is exhausted!,” we exclaimed. While there are hundreds of worthy tzedakah opportunities, we recognize the risk of donor fatigue and eventual apathy.  

Tzedakah is a value that we want all our students to learn and to live throughout their lives. We hope that our balanced approach to tzedakah will create a habit of giving that will empower our students to help bring justice to the world.