Charity boxes coming into their own for Hanukka

Invited to a Hanukka party? Consider a charity box as a worthy gift that goes straight to the core of Jewish life.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
December 1, 2010 19:13
3 minute read.
Tzedaka box

Tzedaka box 311. (photo credit: AP)

Invited to a Hanukka party? Consider a charity box as a worthy gift that goes straight to the core of Jewish life.

Giving charity, called tzedaka in Hebrew, is a righteous obligation popularized in less ancient times by the Jewish National Fund's "blue box" drive in support of Israel.

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The organization has been doling out its charity boxes for 109 years, but more ornate containers are out there as sweet, meaningful gifts that would be especially nice for families trying to drive home the importance of giving to children who may not be exposed to the practice of dropping a few coins in a box at synagogue or religious school.

Gifting a tzedaka box in fun or fancy form is more closely associated with weddings, awards and Bar Mitzvahs than the eight-day festival of lighting candles, spinning dreidels and eating fried foods. That doesn't mean a charity box wouldn't make a positive reminder come Hanukka time, said purveyors and creators of Jewish gifts and ritual items.

"Tzedaka boxes are absolutely a good Hanukka gift," said Rabbi Abigail Treu, director of donor relations and development for the Jewish Theological Seminary, a worldwide force in Conservative Judaism. "It's another way of thinking about what we have and can help us refocus."

The Torah promises that by giving tzedaka, "a person's mind and heart become refined one thousand times." Beautifying the performance of the fundamental command through a keepsake tzedaka box can help revive the practice of charity collection in Jewish homes, said Gary Rosenthal, an artist who has been creating pieces of Judaica since the 1970s.

Menorahs, dreidels, cups for Sabbath wine and seder plates for Passover have been popular gifts for decades, he said. Tzedaka boxes for home use are a relatively new addition.

"Twenty years ago I tried to make a tzedaka box and nobody would buy it," said Rosenthal, in Maryland. "Everybody did it at synagogue but it wasn't something for the home. More Orthodox and traditional Jews had them but there was this lost generation after World War II when tzedaka boxes just fell off the radar."

Rosenthal often works in copper, brass and steel adorned with glass to create ritual items and Jewish gifts. He expects to sell nearly 6,000 tzedaka boxes worldwide by year's end, including a limited-edition streetcar with a portion of proceeds going to the Jewish community in New Orleans. He also has a line decorated with pink glass mosaics designed by people touched by breast cancer to support their cause.

"I like to combine art with doing good, when the purchase is actually an act of tzedaka," Rosenthal said.

More contemporary designers like Rosenthal have delved into Jewish life in recent decades, said Stacey Zaleski, director of merchandising for The Jewish Museum in New York City.

Designs include baseballs for children and globes to symbolize the importance of giving back to the world. They come in bright floral patterns on wood from India. A top seller by New Mexico artist Alice Warder Seely, called "Joy," is black wood and pewter and evokes the history and landscapes of the Southwest.

"The idea is to be appealing so it's kind of fun to collect charity, something you enjoy doing," Zaleski said.

Annie Matza runs the small gift shop at Congregation Ner Tamid in Nevada, outside Las Vegas. The Reform congregation's 720 families have plenty of menorahs and dreidels. More popular as Hanukka gifts are sets of braided candles, wine cups and boxes of fragrant spices to mark the end of the Sabbath, and Mezuzah parchments with Torah portions handwritten by special scribes in cases that hang on doorposts.

She sees tzedaka boxes coming into their own in glass, wood, metal and plastic. "No matter what your taste there's a tzedaka box for everyone," she said.

Risa Borsykowsky, who sells Jewish gifts online, said stepping outside the usual traditions of Hanukka to emphasize tzedaka through a gifted box couldn't come at a better time.

"It helps people who think Hanukka is the Jewish Christmas realize that it really isn't," she said. "It needs to transcend from Hebrew school to the home and be encouraged by the parents. If parents don't encourage tzedaka then it's just a pretty box."


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