Leaving the "Corners"

Leaving the "Corners": Connecting Tzedakah & Service to Your Celebration

There are many ways to extend the joy of your celebration by taking the opportunity to donate or volunteer, and to invite your guests to do so, as well.

Teens: Ask your guests to bring items to donate

A teen who is becoming bar or bat mitzvah can invite his or her party guests to bring a donation item, in lieu of or in addition to gifts: canned items for a food bank, toiletries for a homeless shelter, school supplies for a youth program, or books for a local library.

Plan ahead by calling the organization for which you are collecting items and asking what they need most. Then, your teen can share information with guests about the organization she or he chose to receive these donations.

Or teens can consider donating some of the checks they themselves receive as bar or bat mitzvah gifts towards tzedakah and sharing information about the organization they chose in their thank-you notes.

In Putting God on the Guest List, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin invites teens approaching bar and bat mitzvah to be creative in their choice of mitzvot/good deeds: “Read through your Torah portion and haftarah. Is there something in those portions that suggests a particular kind of mitzvah? The Abraham stories talk about hospitality; the stories of liberation from Egypt suggest various kinds of social justice causes; the construction of the desert sanctuary in Exodus lends itself to support of your local synagogue. Let your deeds speak with the Torah’s voice. It will be a wonderful way of adding meaning to your bar and bat mitzvah experience.”

Teens: Consider a service activity as your party

Some bar and bat mitzvah teens have organized community service activities for their friends instead of a dance party.

  • For example, Yachad, DC’s Jewish community development organization, will help organize a “Mitzvah Party” where a group of friends can work together to repair the home of a low-income homeowner: www.yachad-dc.org, 202.296.8563.
  • Greater DC Cares can suggest many more ideas for group volunteering parties for teens and families with a variety of local organizations: www.dc-cares.org, 202.777.4447.

Jewish programs for giving on happy occasions

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger asks Jewish families to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration to MAZON, and provides table notes to share this choice with guests. MAZON makes grants to anti-hunger organizations around the country. www.mazon.org, 310.442.0020.
  • Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) offers two “lifecycle giving” programs, both of which offer Jewish families an opportunity to support nationwide anti-poverty work on the occasion of a celebration. A Youth Endowment Fund (minimum $1100) engages young people in thoughtful philanthropy and fighting poverty. A Wedding Fund (minimum $1500) gives couples the opportunity to direct tzedakah given by their guests to organizations supported by JFSJ that are promoting economic justice in their community. Wedding attendees contribute to the fund. www.jewishjustice.org, 212.213.2113
  • The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) can create a B’nai Mitzvah Justice Endowment Fund (minimum $1000) in the name of a bar or bat mitzvah teen. The RAC will give the young endowee an annual choice of four social justice projects to receive support from their funds. The program not only provides vital funding for the RAC in its work to advance social justice, but also gives teens an opportunity to practice thoughtful philanthropy. When the endowee turns 21, s/he becomes a member of the RAC’s Tzedek Society. www.rac.org, 202.387.2800.

For Teens: Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute™

Bar/bat mitzvah teens can use $500 of the cash gifts they receive while in seventh grade to create their own philanthropic fund with a group of their peers in eighth and ninth grade. JYPI provides a one-to-one match of teens’ contributions, amounting to a $25,000 fund for each JYPI cohort. The JYPI program gathers teens from DC, Maryland and Virginia monthly to review grant proposals from local, national and international organizations, and to learn how to engage in responsible philanthropy: www.pjll.org, 240.283.6246.

Gift Money to Invest? Choose Socially Responsible Investing

Bar and bat mitzvah teens sometimes receive cash gifts and have an opportunity not only to give their first significant gifts to tzedakah but also to make a first investment in mutual funds or stocks. Sometimes newlywed couples end up wtih sizeable cash gifts, too. Socially responsible investing (SRI) incorporates environmental and social considerations into investment decisions. SRI mutual funds screen companies based on social and environmental criteria, advocate for corporate responsibility, and often place a share of their holdings in community investments in low-income communities, all of which puts invested money to work for good in the marketplace. Particularly if a bar/bat mitzvah teen receives enough gift money (say, $500-1000) to make a first foray into investing, invite her/him to invest according to Jewish values.

  • Social Investment Forum’s SRI Mutual Fund Chart: www.coopamerica.org/.
  • To purchase Co-op America’s Guide to Socially Responsible Investing, an introductory handbook with a directory of SRI investment services and funds, call 800-58-GREEN, or email info@coopamerica.org.
  • Jewish Funds for Justice recently issued a community investment “note” that invites the Jewish community to fight poverty by loaning at least $1000 through Calvert Funds, a family of socially responsible investment funds. You can pick the term of the loan; for example, bar and bat mitzvah teens can set the loan for five years, and get the money back in time for college: www.jewishjustice.org, 212.213.2113.