Change is More than Just Coins in a Box
The Hebrew word tzedakah literally means justice. When we use this word to describe acts of charity, it’s because Judaism believes that charity is a means for ensuring justice in the world. Teaching young children about tzedakah at the High Holidays and all year round is important. Helping children to be thankful for what they have by understanding that others are less fortunate is a life lesson worth learning at every teachable moment. One way to help children understand what others may need is to focus on what they have and may take for granted, and how it might feel if they didn’t have those things.
Walk your child through his day and all the tangible things he has or uses: a bed, pillow, blankets, toothbrush, running water, clean clothes, clothes that fit, healthy food, a family/people who care for him (no matter the configuration), a home to live in, toys, friends, etc. Ask him how it might feel to not have those things or what might happen if he didn’t have these things. Help him to understand that not everyone in the world is lucky enough to have all of these things and that we can help those people in need.
Often we think of tzedakah in terms of collecting coins, but it is important for children to have tangible and concrete ideas of what the money will be used for. It could be used to buy some of the things listed above. Be sure to have a conversation with your child about what the money will be used for. It can help to tell him how much different things cost so he can have an idea of what his collection can buy.
ACTIVITY: Make a Tzedakah Box
You can use any recyclable container (plastic, glass, metal, etc.) that has a lid. Decorate with items such as paint, paper, stickers, etc., that will work well with your container.
ACTIVITIES: Real-Time Tzedakah Activities
For young children, it is wonderful to think about tzedakah in other ways besides just collecting coins. Here are some ideas for concrete, tangible ways to help your child perform the mitzvah of tzedakah:
With your child, go through his clothes and take out items that no longer fit, or that he doesn’t care to wear anymore. Toys are also great to look through and think about how someone else could enjoy playing with them if your child no longer does. These items can be taken to any variety of local homeless shelters, or you can contact a variety of organizations that will pick up curbside, such as Epilepsy Foundation, Big Brothers, Veterans, etc.
Old towels and blankets are great donations to animal shelters for making animal cages more comfy. When you are grocery shopping with your child, have him help select healthy canned goods or basic food staples that you can drop off at a local food pantry. Having children physically deliver or package food is far more concrete and valuable to teaching them how to help others.
As mentioned above, also have your child make new year greeting cards that can be sent to nursing home residents or people in a synagogue’s congregation that may be lonely or not feeling well.