Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crib Note: Tzedak-who?

In 2006 just before we left for Israel my neighbor knocked on my door. That alone is startling. So rare that someone actually comes to the door these days. But Larry is old school. A year earlier he came with a cozy cab and green tractor in tow. For Ben. I can see them both now. On my patio oasis turned parking lot.

I opened the door. We exchanged pleasantries. And then he dumped a fistful of unfamiliar coins into my hand. For tzedakah, he said as I thought tzedak-who? He wished me safe travels, turned on his heel and headed back up the street.

That night when Steve came home I asked about Larry's visit. As a non-Jew back then, I hadn't a clue why our neighbor had entrusted me to carry his pocket change half way around the world. Steve explained that it was for tzedakah -- righteous giving. That Jews viewed giving as not only a responsibility, but a privilege. An expression of dignity. Steve said that it was customary for Jews to give those traveling to Israel an offering to bring to the deserving there. And that we would be protected in our journey because we were traveling with the purpose of giving.

That explained it. And so I carried the coins with me to Israel. On our last day in Jerusalem Steve gave them to someone at the Western Wall.

According to the Talmud, tzedakah is as important as all of the other commandments put together. So we start teaching about it early. Ben takes a dollar with him to Shabbat School every Saturday for the tzedakah box. I asked Essie (what child would not love a teacher with that name) at Shabbat School, where the money goes. So I could explain it to Ben. Essie told me it has been going to Haiti through a program called Meds and Food for Kids ( based in St. Louis.

And I did explain it to Ben. How his dollar helped buy food and medicine for boys and girls his age in a far away place called Haiti. I pointed it out on the map. He of course wanted to know how the money got there. Which inevitably led back to the endless stream of questions about the US Postal delivery system. How you put a stamp on something, leave it in a box and it gets delivered to another box somewhere else. Without getting lost. Hmm. Sometimes amazes me too.

Our 2010 shabbats have also involved a lot of righteous giving. To me. Even though I insist that our guests only bring themselves, they have brought flowers, wine, nuts. Last week Kelly even brought me The Food Bible.

And I like that.

But it's not about me.

This week when our Shabbat #14 guests asked what they could bring I said yourselves. And a few non-perishables for the CRC Nourish Our Neighbors Meal Program offered through a partnership with the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. Ben will deliver the donations to the satelitte drop off site at our temple each Saturday morning before services. And those donations will get delivered to a deserving family in St. Louis.

That's a delivery I understand. And I hope Ben will understand it too.

So now you know what to bring.

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