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Tamchui, By Chaim Heller, Head of School

Chaim final constant contactThe ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “yamim noraim.” Usually this is translated – poetically – as the “Days of Awe”. But a literal translation of the Hebrew words could also be “the terrible days.” And as we all know, for many people around the world, 5775 was a difficult, even terrible year.

But as happens every year around this season, the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur give us an opportunity to renew our spirits and our optimism. Jewish tradition teaches us that we can find renewal through Teshuvah (repenting of doing wrong and returning to goodness), Tefillah (prayer), and Tzedakah (charity impelled by a sense of social responsibility).

Teshuvah is a private matter for each person, whether an adult or a child. We can study and teach about it, but it is ultimately an individual act. Tefillah is taught as part of our weekly school schedule and students increasingly become fluent in its language. But, if there is any lesson to be learned from recent events, it is that Tzedakah is ever more needed in our world and that Tzedakah needs to be taught and practiced in community. And so this year at SDJA we are renewing our long-standing commitment to teaching our students about social responsibility through Tzedakah and active citizenship in the world around us. Today, we are pleased to introduce a renewed commitment to teaching and living the ideas of social responsibility and Tzedakah through a new school-wide program: The SDJA Tamchui* Project.

The SDJA Tamchui Project is an integrated tzedakah, family education, philanthropy, and tikkun olam project. The objective is simple; we seek to provide a communal vehicle for tzedakah during the Chanukah season, when so much of our children’s focus is on receiving presents. While each of us, as families, have our own tzedakah rituals, the power of communal tzedakah is tremendous. The SDJA Tamchui Project provides us with a tool for remembering the neediest members of our community during a season of celebration. Equally important, for Academy students the project is one more step on the road to becoming people committed to helping those around them.

We will establish a communal tzedakah fund from student classroom tzedakah funds as well as from small donations from our entire adult community. We will select five organizations (from dozens nominated by Academy families, students, and staff) to be the recipient of a portion of our tzedakah funds. We’ll invite these organizations to become partners in educating our students about tzedakah. After a week of educational activities we will provide all of our students from preschool through 12th grade with a vehicle for allocating their share of the funds based on their personal preferences. Each child will have the opportunity to contribute to the organization of his/her choice every day for a week. The culmination of the project will be during the Chanukah season, when thoughts in our society are often focused on receiving and not giving.

This project is a part of the SDJA Seventh Grade Fund, begun this year with our 7th grade, which will provide Bar/Bat Mitzvah-aged students the opportunity of being part of a philanthropic board. We anticipate our 7th graders leading the Tamchui project and being deeply involved in its organization. We also believe that teaching tikkun olam stemming from a deep sense of social responsibility is something that can begin in preschool and last a lifetime. To that end, we have drawn inspiration from both the Rashi School in Dedham, Massachusetts  and the Brandeis School in San Francisco which have pioneered and developed this program in recent years.

In the weeks to come we will share the details of this project with parents and students. We will ask for nominations of deserving charities and non-profits based on a set of child-centered criteria that will make The SDJA Tamchui Project much more than another outlet for charity. We will ask for volunteers to help us and we will ask each family for a small, token donation to fund the project.

For now, we ask only for your enthusiasm and support as we seek to find meaningful ways to teach our children one of the most basic principles of the Jewish faith; take care of your neighbor. This tenet can be found within each denomination, throughout all ideologies and within the hearts of all good people. It is our responsibility—each and every one of us—to take care of our neighbor. It is also our responsibility as a school and as a community to teach our children why and how. Let us begin today.

Gmar Chatimah Tova,

Have an easy fast,

Chaim Heller

*Tamchui – In medieval times, a Tamchui was a pool of tzedakah funds established in every community to provide for the urgent needs of the moment.

“… collectors are appointed who fetch bread and foodstuffs from every courtyard as well as fruit products or money, from anyone who donates for the needs of the moment. They distribute the collections among the poor… this is called the Tamchui.”

— Maimonides, Yad, Gifts to the Poor, 9.2

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