By Harold Levine
I have just completed a rather unscientific survey of 10 Jewish families in the Westport area. I asked the parents in each family whether they recalled the tzedakah box from their youth, and in seven cases, they did; six respondents actually went into another room and lovingly produced a box from their youth. When asked whether their grown children had one in their own homes, most replied, “I don’t think so.”
Of course, many reasons were given: “My son married a Christian.”
“My children are not really identified with Judaism, or any religion.” I immediately stopped them short and said, “Wait a minute: I’m not talking about religion, I’m just focusing on the next generation’s identity with philanthropy.”
I personally feel rather strongly that our parents successfully planted in my generation a tradition of charity by the very fact that they had charity boxes in our homes. Whether it was to buy trees in Palestine or to feed the hungry, we saw our parents drop pennies, nickels, and dimes into this little box, and we knew it was part of “giving back” and “caring.” I believe that the tzedakah box was the seed that taught me and my generation the importance of charity.
It would be really sad if the next generation of Jewish families were not as charitable as the present or previous ones. What happens when today’s major donors die off and are not replaced by the next generation? Will contributions to Jewish federations, the Anti-Defamation League, and other Jewish organizations suffer severe declines? Will donations to the arts, hospitals, and education suffer because the next generation of Jewish families in this country does not recognize the importance of charitable giving?
Allow me to suggest that we can really do something about this and begin to restore the tzedakah box to its rightful place in the American Jewish home. How about giving our children a tzedakah box when they get married, whether they marry a Jewish partner or not? How about making the charity box an important bar- or bat-mitzvah present? How about giving our first grandchild a tzedakah box at birth instead of an engraved silver rattle? And of course it’s a great gift when your child moves into their first home. Let’s bring the tzedakah box back into the Jewish home.
Philanthropist Harold Levine of Westport is founder of the Town and Village shul in New York City and chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, an after-school and summer arts programs for children in Bridgeport and its surrounding towns. He previously served as chairman of the Music and Arts Center for Humanity and of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He was a founding partner of Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver, an award-winning advertising agency established in 1970 with former newsman Chet Huntley.
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