Growing up in the suburbs of Boston in the late 70’s early 80’s, I recall looking forward to Friday night Shabbat dinners in our wood paneled kitchen with macrame plant hangers, which by the way, are now all the rage again! Somehow, my mother managed work, rushed home and pulled together a festive shabbat meal, where we regularly welcomed friends to join us. A blue and white Jewish National Fund Tzedakah box like one pictured to the right sat on the counter and each week my older brother and I were given coins to drop into the box to help those in need before lighting the Shabbat candles. Fast forward (VCR reference) 40 years later, I have often wondered – did the physical act of putting coins in that little blue and white box to make the world a better place set me down the path of fundraising and community building? It was most likely my first exposure to the act of charity.
The origins of the Jewish family charity box are unknown but they were in use 2000 years ago. During Scriptural times Jews would donate to the temple and the poor through a receptacle and people could take funds anonymously if needed. Charity boxes remained in synagogues and were used for upkeep, as well as to help those in need. When Jews immigrated to America, they brought the act of Tzedakah, or helping others with them. Funds were raised especially, to help those who stayed behind in Eastern Europe.
I thought it would be neat to share two distinct Tzedakah Boxes from the Capital Jewish Museum’s William Sager Collection. The Charity Boxes (pushkes) were brought from Lithuania by Louis and Fannie Schindler Sager in 1892-1893 and later used in their home in Hagerstown, MD and Front Royal, VA.
Recently, my family celebrated the Simchat Mitzvah of my oldest child at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac. The temple sent a lovely Gary Rosenthal Tzedkah Box as a special gift.
They all look different but serve the same function, Notice the slot on the top of each box for the collection of coins. The custom of Jews giving tzedakah has lasted throughout the ages. In the context of the museum – connect and learn about the past, reflect on how you can make a difference, and act to make the world a better place. Through exploration and discovery of the museum’s collections, we will inspire future generations to act – take a stand – make a difference – help the world – in their own meaningful ways.