Where Do You Give?

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Where Does Pursue Give? Part 1

This past Tuesday, January 10 was the launch of the Where Do You Give? National Design Competition. The competition challenges designers, artists and conceptual thinkers to create a 21st century icon inspired by the values and imagery of the traditional tzedakah box that reflects our increasingly interconnected, global and technologically accelerated world.

To gear up for the launch, the Pursue team spent some time reflecting on their own tzedakah values. Read part one below, and learn more about entering the competition here!

What are your first memories of learning about tzedakah (or philanthropic giving)? What are your first memories of giving money to those in need?

Audrey Sasson, Senior Program Officer for National Campaigns: My first memory was going from class to class in high school with my best friend Tal and asking people to donate to Save the Children. We were known as the Save the Children people because we randomly decided that our friends and peers should donate money there. I have no idea how we picked that particular charity, and it’s not at all what I would pick today, but the instinct to give was there and has been refined since.

Merrill Zack, Associate Director of Education and Community Engagement, AJWS:  I have memories of my dad constantly running off to meetings for Jewish non-profit organizations (usually they were part of the Detroit Federation system) on whose boards he served and of my mom heading off to “women’s lib” meetings (I was born in the early 1970s!) and other activist-type engagements. I understood from their examples that being in service to others was a fundamental part of our family identity (and part of their aspirations for what my individual identity would reflect as well). Like many people, I also have memories of the Sunday school pushke and buying trees and forests for the Jewish National Fund, but I think that it was later in my childhood – middle school, perhaps – that I grasped that in addition to volunteering their time, my parents were also substantially philanthropic with their dollars, and that giving tzedakah was important too, that we reflect our values in many ways out into our community and the larger world. 

Chanel Dubofsky, New York Program Associate: Giving is complicated for me, I think, because I wasn’t raised in a culture of giving. While my mom was focused on cultivating the appearance of having money, it wasn’t seen as practical to be giving to organizations. My main association with Jewish giving was the tzedekah box in Hebrew school, but I don’t think I really thought much about that.

Suzanne Lipkin, Program Officer for Operations: I don’t have vivid formative memories of giving, though I feel it was always part of my life through things like Hebrew school, and I have always known that my parents are yearly donors to many causes.

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Director of Alumni and Community Engagement, AVODAH: One of my earliest memories of tzedakah is participating in Super Sunday, the annual UJA Federation call-a-thon. This was essentially a festival. There was music, food, excitement, socializing, and we’d all come together to raise money for a cause that helped people who needed it. I’m not sure that I really knew what they did, but I learned that day that raising money could be exhilirating and you could have fun while also doing something good. Another memory I have of giving is spearheading a winter coat drive for Bosnian refugees when I was in middle school. I recently found a big posterboard sign I’d made with a rhyming verse about why people should donate their coats to cold refugees. Again, I think I was trying to make the act of giving into somethign that could be fun.

Rachel Gross-Prinz, Program Associate: My first few years trick-or-treating, my parents had me walk around with a UNICEF collection container (think tzedakah box) in order to ask for donations in addition to the usual candy. By the end of the evening, the box always ended up at the bottom of my candy collection container, with only small coins inside. I distinctly remember being embarrassed to ask people for money - somehow candy seemed safer. Eventually I learned about tzedakah at Sunday school: we had a requirement to bring tzedakah to class each week and at the end of the year we voted on where our funds went. I don’t think we had any role in identifying the pool of options and felt frustrated by that.

Erika Davis, Temporary Program Associate: I remember the collection plate at my mother’s Baptist church, feeling a little confused by why we were putting dollar bills in the gold plate and wanting to keep the money rather than give it to something I didn’t understand. I remember giving my time more than I remember giving money. One Christmas in particular, my father took my sister and I to a center that served underprivileged families. There was a Christmas play, much like the play I put on in my own school. After the play we helped give out presents. Each child got about one present. I remember feeling guilty for being there: we always received dozens of presents on Christmas morning, and these kids only got one present.

What’s your first memory of tzedakah? Tell us below!

This post was originally published at Pursue: Action for a Just World.

Photo courtesy of moooster.

Chanel Dubofsky

Chanel Dubofsky is the Program Associate at Pursue-Action for a Just World. She blogs at Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com) and lives in Brooklyn.

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