By Josh Yudkin
For many, the iconic moment of “giving tzedakah” is during Hebrew school when they pass around the “tzedakah box.” Many may remember the blue-and-white Jewish National Fund (JNF) metal box and the click-clack of copper pennies and nickels hitting the tin box. Others may have a wooden or stone tzedakah box sitting on a bookshelf that they received from their b’nai mitzvah.
In spite our modern use of the term “tzedakah,” which typically connotes charity, the shoresh or root of the word is justice. Jewish tradition acknowledges that the world is imperfect and teaches us to be just and create more justice. In fact, we often talk about tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Tikkun olam is another way of practicing tzedakah. Tikkun olam may be the modern way we teach tzedakah — to be just and create more justice by repairing the world.
Two weeks ago, flyers of hate were distributed in Harris County, Texas. Yet, hundreds of pieces of hateful material never made it into the hands of children, parents and grandparents due to humble heroes who went from door to door picking up and removing plastic packets of antisemitic and white supremacist propaganda that had the phrase “We Can Do it Again” next to a picture of Adolf Hitler. The mother in this family of humble heroes reflected, “My fear was that kids were going to wake up to that…. It was disgusting for me to look at, so imagine an 8-year-old seeing it.”
The Brady family members who removed these inciting and hateful texts were not bystanders — they were upstanders who practiced tzedakah. The Brady family did not settle for our imperfect world — they performed tikkun olam.
Our world is filled with hate. Our world is filled with xenophobia and prejudice. Stacie Brady shared that, since her experience, “I’m always looking out now…because it does make you wonder, if they can do this, what else can they do?”
But our world is also filled with people who show relentless respect for others. Our world is also filled with the righteous among the nations and the righteous among our neighborhoods who practice tzedakah — by being just and creating more justice.
It is important to call out those who speak and practice acts of hate. It is equally important to celebrate the righteous amongst us. Who has stood by your side when you faced adversity? For whom do you want to express radical gratitude?
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.