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.
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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.
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,"
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."