When my husband and I thought about having children, we knew we wanted to raise them to be kind, generous and inquisitive. Judaism is rich in lessons from which we can teach our children, especially around nedivut (generosity). We found that in order to raise generous children, we should implement different acts of kindness by being generous with charity, hospitality and sharing.
Generosity as charity
We recycle everything! Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also a great action for our children to see and something we can do together. As a family, we sort the recycling and take all of the cans and bottles to the store for a refund once a month. With his refund, my son gets a quarter to buy candy from the candy machines, and he puts the rest of the money in the tzedakah box he made. (He loves placing money in his tzedakah box almost as much as the candy he buys!) We tell him we are collecting money, and with this money we’ll buy toys for a little boy or girl who has none. It’s basic, but I think he is starting to understand. It’s something we try to do on a regular basis so it sticks. Want to make the tzedakah box consistent? Try doing this weekly on Shabbat as an activity with your kids.
Generosity as hospitality
Generosity as hospitality is when you are a generous and humble host, like Abraham was in the Bible. His tent was open on all four sides to welcome travelers into his home. He treated everyone like royalty, greeting them at the door, offering them food and drink and showing them to the door when they left.
If you ever have the opportunity to open your home to someone in need, I highly recommend it. Last year, we took in an acquaintance of a friend who had been living in different homeless shelters in the Boston area and needed a place to stay while she got back on her feet. She stayed in our mother-in-law suite for eight months and saved enough money to apply for and receive her U.S. citizenship. We cheered her on as she took the oath to become a U.S. citizen at Faneuil Hall. It was such a touching moment. Eventually, she moved back to Miami to join her family and support network. Although it wasn’t always easy, it felt amazing to be able to help someone in need.
Having someone stay with you long-term may not be an option, but you can always demonstrate generosity in a way that your children will understand, perhaps when their friends come over for a play date. Make a rule that when guests arrive, everyone greets them at the door, offers them food and drink, and says farewell as they depart. Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses writes: “By modeling kindness and generosity of spirit through hospitality, these attributes will become engrained in children.”
Generosity as sharing
A friend of mine does a simple sharing lesson with her daughter. When they go on a play date, they bring an extra snack, one for her and one to share with her friend. She also teaches her daughter not just about sharing toys, but about sharing love. She’ll make comments like, “Look, you gave Daddy a big hug and now look at how big he’s smiling!” To practice sharing love, they use her stuffed animals that way too—“Oh! It made Abby’s ears happy when you used your nice words.”
In all of these instances, it’s the action of doing that leads to learning these Jewish values. Giving your child ownership on deciding where to be charitable can be key. Wendy Mogel, author of “The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” writes: “Words alone rarely teach children much about the good of giving rather than receiving. The key to getting this message across is letting your child use his leadership ability and judgment in the process of helping others.”
If you want to incorporate nedivut in your child’s life, it can be as simple as leading by example—opening the door for strangers, giving up your seat on the bus or train, speaking kindly to others, baking cookies for a neighbor or friend, donating your old or new toys, or even cleaning up garbage at the park.
If you are looking for nedivut or tzedakah to implement in your lives, or charities to donate to, here is a short list we compiled:
- Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters (become a big brother or sister)
- Family Table (help at this kosher food bank)
- First Friends (help new immigrants)
- Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (help young children discover the joy of reading)
- Cradles to Crayons (host a clothing/toy drive at your school or synagogue)
A more complete list of volunteer opportunities can be found at cjp.org/volunteer.aspx.
Julie Unger is a consultant who has worked in a variety of roles within the Jewish community. She is currently the coordinator for families with young children at Temple Israel of Boston and also helps with marketing efforts at the URJ’s Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. Julie is in an interfaith marriage with her husband, Matt, and they have two young children, Solomon, 3, and Dalya, 8 months. When she’s not out gallivanting with her family in Melrose, Julie enjoys trying to cook ridiculously complicated recipes, which she often has to force her family to eat.