The Hebrew word tzedakah, means righteousness, and refers to the Jewish obligation to do what’s right and just, including the responsibility of giving money to the poor or needy. Tzedakah is an integral part of the education of the religious school students at Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville.
On Sunday, CBS held its first Tzedakah Fair. More than $1,000 was raised to donate to more than 15 organizations that were selected and researched by the students.
“Tzedakah not only comes from the heart because we feel like it, but because Judaism says we must give of our time, talent or money no matter how we feel,” said Barbara Bernstein, education director. “We teach our students that when we give tzedakah, it reminds us that we have been given so much, and we have a lot to give others.
“We want them to know the importance of helping others and making this world a better place.”
Bernstein said she first thought about having the fair when she realized that kids often don’t know the organizations to which their parents donate money.
“They know their parents give money, but they often don’t see them write the checks or know who they’re to,” she said.
The event, Bernstein said, was designed to encourage the kids to be informed about charities, and discuss why they choose particular recipients.
Ben Greenberg, a seventh-grade student at Congregation Beth Shalom, explained that for the Tzedakah Fair, the students looked into various charities and chose the specific ones that their grade levels would represent. The younger grade levels selected one charity each; the upper grade levels chose two.
“We made posters and put them around the social hall, and people saw them, read them and made donations,” Ben said.
Charities represented included Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mazon, the Jewish Red Cross and more.
“The fair helped kids to realize the different charities that are around, and to raise money for the charities and show new charities to people,” he said. “It helped people to open their eyes to what they should do to help people in need.”
The students were responsible for explaining their charities to people who were visiting their display and considering making a donation.
“We would describe the charity and convince people to donate,” said Max Levitt, who is also a seventh-grade studen. “We tried to describe ours and to be persuasive.”
Adults and students helped count the money as it was collected.
“We tallied it on a large white board in the center of the social hall so everyone could see the numbers as they went up on the board. It was all very exciting,” Bernstein said. “… Our families were all very generous and taught their children some wonderful lessons. We encourage them to now involve their children in making these decisions moving forward.”
Organizers hope the fundraising venture is only the beginning, and that parents will involve their children in charitable decisions in the future.
“It showed what a big difference we can make,” Max said.