Hanukkah means tzedakah for local day school

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The excitement filled the lunchroom as students at Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy (SMDS-RJA) were given their first tokens to distribute for the Hanukkah 2008 Tamhui Program. The annual community tzedakah collection — Tamhui — is definitely one of the highlights of the school year students look forward to around Hanukkah.

This is the eighth year of the program, said SMDS-RJA Head of School Cheryl Maayan.

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“I stole the idea from Stephanie Rotsky who did the program at the Rashi School in Boston,” Maayan said. “She got the idea from a National CAJE conference.”

The innovative program encourages students to give up receiving gifts for one night of Hanukkah and instead donate the “gift” money to the Tamhui project.

“There is a suggested amount for donation but everyone is welcome to bring what they are comfortable with,” Maayan said. “Some kids bring in their tzedakah money from home. They have such joy in their faces when they bring in their coins.”

Five different organizations are chosen each year to represent a range and breadth of groups helping to make the world a better place in different ways. Nominations for the organizations are taken from the school throughout the year. A committee of parents, teachers and Maayan make the final choices. The five organizations may be local, national, international, Jewish or non-Jewish. They always choose at least one organization from Israel. This year the five organizations are: Camp Rainbow, Haven House, Heifer International, Table to Table and Therapeutic Horsemanship.

Each student receives a Tamhui packet which includes a brochure with information about each organization. There is also “chat homework” for families: a series of questions for them to discuss together as they learn about and discuss the value of each organization. The students also see presentations about each organization.

“I think it is a fun thing to do and I always learn about new organizations,” fifth grader Gaelyn Hartranft said. “I learned Camp Rainbow is a camp for kids with serious illnesses. I never realized those kids don’t get to do the things we get to do like summer camp.”

During Tamhui week a jar is set up representing each organization and set up in the lunch room. Every student and teacher receives two tokens each day for five days to place into jar of the organization they wish to receive money. Each day they have the opportunity to make a decision how their community money will be distributed. They are learning and deciding about what they care about, what the needs of the community are and what inspires them said Maayan.

Second grader Madison Leski explained about Camp Rainbow to a kindergarten student who was contemplating where to put her token.

The students are also learning Jewish values about anonymous giving and receiving.

“Tamhui is a community collection and represents the priorities and shared values of the community,” Maayan said. “Everyone has an equal say where the money goes — regardless of how much money each person contributed.”

Maayan is especially delighted the Tamhui project totally integrates math and Judaism. On Tamhui Math Day every class has an age-appropriate job. The donated money is counted and then divided by the numbers of tokens distributed which gives a monetary value to each token. Then the jars of tokens are counted and those totals are multiplied by each token amount to determine the amount of money to be donated to each organization.

It is clear from the excitement and the involvement of the entire school community Tamhui is a project where the lessons come through loud and clear.

“It’s cool to be part of something where everyone is giving,” fifth grader Jacob Granick said. “It’s cool to be part of community where people think about other people.”