At the Sunday School for Jewish Studies we teach our students that people should be more concerned with how we treat our fellow human beings than with strict ritual observances. Educating our students about the rituals and observances of Judaism is critical, but we also emphasize the importance of kindness, respect and compassion, concepts that are a significant portion of the essence of Torah and Judaism.
We all know the meaning of tzedakah, the giving of charity, but there also exists a wider scope of charitable activity called gemilut chasadim – acts of caring and responsibility. The differences between tzedakah and gemilut chasadim lie in a couple of areas. Tzedakah is carried out by giving money, whereas gemilut chasadim involves giving of one’s person, for example by a kindly word or a pat on the shoulder or by generally offering words of comfort and consolation. Tzedakah is usually directed towards the poor, whereas gemilut chasadim involves the expression of goodwill to all, rich or poor, healthy or sick, successful or to those who fall short of success. Tzedakah is a part of gemilut chasadim and gemilut chasadim is a part of the Jewish effort to “repair the world” (tikun olam).
Each of our classes is responsible for a gemilut chasadim activity. Projects vary from class to class. The following are a few samples of activities that your children might be engaged with in his or her class:
In Ms. Gerber’s class, students are bringing in new/gently used books for a book drive helping out Read Boston. Closer to Passover they will be doing a matzah collection for Family Table.
In Ms. Lapuck’s class students will be creating Passover decorations and sending them to Hebrew Senior Life.
Ms. Smith’s class is the “go to” class in raising funds to plant trees in Israel. Ms. Smith’s students have collected money from all classes and have been responsible for planting 11 trees in honor of The Sunday School.
Ms. Scolnick’s class made tzedakah boxes at the beginning of the year and have collected a lot of tzedakah. They will be having an in depth discussion (third grade style) about where to send their tzedakah.
Mr. Heller’s class has been responsible for the two “Healthy Snack” sales we have had this year. Sixth graders chose the Make A Wish Foundation to be the recipients of their tzedakah efforts.
Ms. Yanofsky’s class have agreed to do extra chores around their homes for a quarter. They then bring their quarters to class and purchase cereal that they will donate to the Boston Food Bank.
Along with the efforts above go the frequent classroom discussions about kindness, and the need for us all to lend a hand in repairing the world.
The doing of gemilut chasidim, is supposed to come from within, from the compassionate heart. It is not supposed to be imposed from without, nor does it come from a sense of duty. Gemilut chasidim is what must be done to “repair the world.” As the old Jewish saying has it: “Charity awaits the cry of distress. Benevolence anticipates the cry of distress.” Learning to have a compassionate heart, comes from parents, teachers, schools and community. We believe this to be such a fundamental Jewish value that we have incorporated it into our Sunday School curriculum.
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