Yeshivah of Flatbush Tzedakah Project

by: Rabbi Jeremy Spierer

A few words to educators about the tzedakah commission and this newspaper/annual report.
1. For the members of the commission this project presents many educational opportunities:
a. They learn Hilchot Tzedakah either through the Shulchan Aruch itself or through good summaries such Laws of Tzedakah and Ma’aser (Shimon Taub) or the halacha section of www.just-tzedakah.org. Applying the halachot immediately to a “real-life” allocation is a powerful tool to internalize the halachot.
b. They learn research skills in identifying and verifying the tzedakot. Websites such as www.just-tzedakah.org and www.guidestar.com present financial information that raises issues the average student does not consider: the percentages of the contribution that go to administrative costs; when are these percentages telling and when are they not; how involved is the board of directors of the organization; does the organization have a U.S. tax I-D. The students gain a new vocabulary and a new awareness of what it means to give tzedakah responsibly.
c. They gain written and oral communication skills as they:

  • contact the organizations by e-mail or phone
  • summarize the information for each other
  • debate the issues
  • come to a consensus regarding the final amounts

d. They learn about different organizations.
e. They are a good audience for guest speakers on topics of chesed and tzedakah.
2. The Tzedakah Commission can serve a powerful educational tool for the entire student body.
a. Newsletters or special reports in the school newspaper or even announcements over the loudspeaker let the student body know that their money is being handled responsibly, and more important – that students are handling the money. This sends a powerful message: students have given the money and a representative body of students decides where the money goes. In general, knowing how their tzedakah has helped is a source of pride and motivation for more generous giving.
b. The Commission serves as a conduit to the student body.

  • Any student who hears of a cause can turn to the commission and present his case. This happened several times as students and faculty brought different tzedakot to our attention and they and we conducted the research. (In the newsletter we acknowledged these “referrals” in bold.)
  • Other commissions doing chesed work turn to the tzedakah commission for funding.
  • There is a central body that authorizes all tzedakah drives. Before the commission, students took it upon themselves to launch campaigns and “besiege” the students with classroom collections.

The commission reaches its full potential when it is a visible force in school in frequent communication with the student body. We are playing around with such ideas as:
1. Appointing representatives in each class to solicit the students’ tzedakah interests,
2. Subjecting an allocation to a student referendum – this has to be fleshed out very carefully,
3. Having students from the commission enter classes learning tzedakah and talk about a particular allocation. If this communication with students is successful I think the students will absorb the message that they don’t complete their tzedakah obligation by just putting money in a box. To give tzedakah seriously takes a lot of work.
To see the 2004 Tzedakah Commission report, click here.

The Lookstein Center