Celebrate tzedakah during the holidays

Angela Flotken lives in Clayton with her husband, J.J., and two daughters, Taylor and Morgan.

By Angela Flotken

Our two new tzedakah boxes sit on the mantle in our living room. Crafted lovingly with small hands and adorned with stickers, each bears the name of our children. They are surrounded by menorahs, dreidels, and other Hanukkah décor as we prepare to celebrate the eight day Festival of Lights. The boxes are a beautiful reminder that while we celebrate with family and friends, games and gelt, we must not forget our obligation to give of ourselves to those less fortunate. This is a message we try hard to instill in our children not only during the holiday season but throughout the year.

What a beautiful thing it is that our religion places such a high importance on tzedakah. The fact that charity is equal to all the other commandments combined is amazing. While we benefit others by giving back, Judaism teaches us that it is us, the donors, who reap as much or more. I find this has been true in my life, and I pray that my children grow up feeling the same way. To raise kind, giving children is among what I would ultimately call my greatest achievement.

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Thankfully, we are not alone in our quest to raise our children with strong Jewish values. PJ Library has become our partner in Jewish learning, and it has done so in a way that has brought joy and fun into our home. Each month, our children receive a thick paper envelope by mail with their name on it. Inside they find the treasure of a book or CD that illustrates something about our religion. It is a subtle way to infuse a little bit of our Jewish culture and how we celebrate holidays and view life events into our home.

This month, our PJ envelopes looked a bit different. In addition to the usual book (about Hanukkah), our envelopes included make your own tzedakah boxes. It was our daughters’ job to assemble and decorate the boxes; then we discussed what we would do with the money we collected. Our daughters decided they would buy food for those who go without. Each day during Hanukkah they will “fold their beds” when they wake up. Every time they do this and various other chores like loading the dishwasher or setting the table, they will receive money for their tzedakah boxes. At the end of the holiday, we will gather the money and use it to purchase food that we will drop off at the food pantry together. It is a small act; yet we hope it will make a lasting impression.

As we watch our children do their part to heal the world, the rest of the PJ Library community comprising over 100,000 children in 185 communities in North America will do the same. That community is who will ultimately lead us towards a bright, prosperous, giving, and caring Jewish future.  In the words of Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that no one need to wait a single moment to start to improve the world.”