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Empowering Children to Pursue Justice through Tzedakah

Trying to teach your children to give? Kveller recently posted a great article about teaching the value of tzedakah to your children.

In the article, Sara Shapiro-Plevan writes that “childhood is the ideal time to teach your child about justice from the Jewish perspective.”

I couldn’t agree more. At American Jewish World Service, Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice is central to our core values. As we dedicate ourselves to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world, we do not view grantmaking to our grassroots partners as charity. Rather, we give grants in order to support others who are working towards a better, more just, world.

What’s great about Shapiro-Plevan’s article is that she takes teaching children about tzedakah to really mean teaching children about justice. She encourages parents to point out situations where children recognize an injustice in their world, such as when they see people who are homeless in their neighborhood, and use it as a learning experience. “Don’t explain away the issue,” she says, but use it as an opportunity to “explain that the world is indeed unfair, and that we can help make it fair and just.”

This is easy to do when you’re talking about people who your child might see every day, but what about bigger issues, like the famine in East Africa? How do you teach your child about injustices that we may not truly understand ourselves?

At AJWS, we’ve created some educational resources that can help you talk to your children about the developing world, such as disaster relief and the earthquake in Haiti. It’s a good place to start inspiring your children to develop a deep connection to causes in developing countries.

No matter where you start, when it comes down to it, don’t be afraid to talk to your children about what’s going on in the world. Learning about injustices now and what they can do to help will, as Shapiro-Plevan writes, “Help your child understand that in the end, one of the best ways to help make our world a more just, fair place is to share the resources we have with others who don’t have them.” In other words, it will help your child truly understand the values behind giving tzedakah.


Sasha Feldstein is a program associate in the education and community engagement department at AJWS, where she manages WhereDoYouGive.org. Aside from wanting to be and play outside all of the time, she is interested in radical reconceptualizations of ancient traditions and in deeply exploring why we give, where we give, how we give and what it means to define giving tzedakah as pursuing justice. Sasha can be reached at sfeldstein@ajws.org.

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