Five Tips for Teaching Jewish Children to Give Back
By Ellen Sabin
There are many ways that we can encourage children of all ages to understand the importance of doing things for others and performing mitzvot related to tzedakah and gemilut chasidim
(charity). Some of Judaism's cetral teachings are based on these core concepts and Jewish values. Jewish values and ethics give us a context in which to introduce children to ways that they can help repair the world and make it a better place through acts of tikkun olam (making the world a better place). Teaching our children about the importance of giving is a great way for families to uncover more about their Judaism and Jewish values. Here are some tips for parents intersting in working with their children to learn more about giving. They include:
1. Be a good role model or "dugmah." A core Jewish value is known as "dugmah ishit," which is a personal example. It encourages all of us, and especially parents, to be a good role model and to lead by example. Our children learn important values related to giving time and money from their parents and mentors. So it is important to walk the walk! Make sure that your childe sees that you are a volunteer. Explain where and why you donate dollars to specific places. Not only will it serve you and your community, but your child will learn core Jewish values from you that will stick with them throughout their lifetime.
2. Ask your children to explain their own wishes and dreams for the world. It is extremely important for families to discuss the current state of the world, both close to home and further away. Our Jewish texts explain that it is our responsibility to work towards making a better world for future generations, but in order to ecourage those generations to be active, they must realize how crucial it is to try to finish the work the generations before them began. Explain why you are involved in the organizations and activities that you work with and ask your children where their interests and concerns lie. Help them find ways to work on those areas of concern and invite them to jump in and do things to make their wishses and dreams for the world come true!
3. Show children how their actions make a big difference. There are countless ways to give to others and every little bit we do helps. Our Jewish tradition tells us that we should not put a stumbling block before the blind and that we should always help those less fortunate than us (the widow, the orphan). Our children can do many things (like pick up litter), can give things (like donating old cloths to people who need them), and can share things (like simply sharing their time by visiting someone who is sick). When your children perform acts of loving kindness, discuss the impact that their actions had on the people they wanted to help. By helping children see the many ways they have the power to give, you are giving them a priceless gift of seeing the value of their contributions. You also have an opportunity to help them understand tikkun olam and the Jewish value of gemilut hasadim.
4. Participate in group and family activities. Making the decision to perform mitzvot that help others as a family and/or with the greater community sends a strong message about the ways in which you prioritize the time you spend as a family. Call a family meeting and ask your children what activities and events they would like to do together to help others. Ideas might include participating in a walk-a-thon for your family's favorite cause, baking cookies with your children and bringing them to a local hospital or senior citizen center, creating art projects to sell and donating the money to a charity that you and your children have found together. These are only a few possibilities, but investing the time and energy to help others as a family unit is not only a great gift to give to others, but it is a gift to the foundation of your family as well.
5. Find resources to get your children excited about charity and learning about Jewish values. Jewish tradition tells us that aking the time to teach Jewish lessons to our children is a parent's obligation. There are some wonderful books and websites that can help you teach about charity and giving to your children. The best ones show children and parents alike how to work together to help others and find joy in that work.
The Giving Book is for children 6-11 years old and helps them create their vision for giving back to the world. Children and their parents can use The Giving Book together to help stimulate family and individual excitement. There are some ideas and lessons available for parents to use with their children about Jewish values surrounding giving and how to use The Giving Book located in the free Jewish Guide at Watering Can Press's website
The lessons were written by Rebecca Starr, and funded by The Covenant Foundation.
Ellen Sabin has spent her career running nonprofit organizations for various causes. She initially wrote The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving for her 6-year-old niece's birthday and found parents and educators calling to state that little Leah was teaching other children about giving and charity.
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from the February 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine