(If you can't see the embedded video, above, here's a direct YouTube link.)
American Jewish World Service has launched a new program which I think is pretty terrific. It's called Where Do You Give? The idea is to reimagine tzedakah -- often translated as "charity," though the root of the Hebrew word implies justice, not pity -- through a national design competition and online interactive resources to engage Jews in critical questions about where we give, to whom and why. (For more on tzedakah, check out What is Tzedakah?)
For educators, there's also a Student Track Lesson Plan which uses text, personal reflection, art and student interviews to set the stage for students to design their own tzedakah boxes that express the realities of where, to whom and why they give tzedakah. (Those boxes can then be submitted to the AJWS contest in the secular new year.) The contest actually takes three forms: students can submit an actual tzedakah box, or a digital tzedakah website, or a piece of art or sculpture inspired by these ideas. And the lesson plan is excellent -- I'm planning to teach with it / from it when I return to my b'nei mitzvah students after the Ohalah conference next month.
At this time of year, all sorts of worthwhile organizations tend to clamor for our attention and our wallets, reminding us that in order for donations to be tax-deductible on our 2011 taxes, we need to make them by the end of the secular year. It's true, of course, and many of us do a lot of giving at this season. But I appreciate the AJWS' reminder that tzedakah is an imperative: not only at year-end, not only for tax purposes or because it feels nice to help others, but because God asks it of us. All of us. All the time.