The Tamchui Project: Teaching Kids the Mitzvah of Helping Those in Need
by Jacki Hart and Stephanie Rotsky
Still relatively green as parents, choosing a school for our then-4-year-old and nearly-6-year-old felt like a major “grown up” responsibility. What would they learn; how would they be taught? Would the school nurture their nature? And could the school selection influence who they might become? The emphasis on social justice and the mission of tikkun olam, repair of the world, drew us to Rashi, a Reform Jewish day school in the Boston metropolitan area for kindergarteners through 8th graders. Little did we understand, six years ago, that Tamchui, Rashi’s unique annual community social justice project, would have a profound impact on each of us individually and on our family collectively.
Our experience is not unique. Many in our community are deeply moved by this innovative Rashi tradition. Tamchui, an Aramaic word literally translated as “community collection plate,” dates back to medieval times, when Jewish communities gathered and distributed money and goods for the needs of the time. Those who could give did, while those who were in need took. Neighbors anonymously supporting neighbors: What could be more Jewish than that?
Every year, leading up to the holiday of Purim, the Rashi community participates in a two-week learning and philanthropic project that offers a modern day interpretation of Tamchui, including that we define community more broadly. During the celebratory time leading up to Purim, when students dress up and act silly, have parties and plays, read and listen to the Megillah, and make and distribute mishlo’ach manot, they also collectively fulfill the mitzvah of matanot le’evyonim (giving to those in need) through the unique process of Tamchui.
Between Sukkot and Hanukkah, Rashi’s faculty, staff, parents, and students nominate non-profit organizations that respond to needs of children and their families in our local, national, and global communities. A team of teachers and parents reviews the nominations (usually between 35 and 50 each year) to select five or six organizations that Rashi students and families will study and ultimately support with a monetary donation.
The first week of Tamchui, known as “Education Week,” learning involves study of the chosen organizations. This allows the students to make thoughtful, informed choices when it comes time to allocate their tokens during the following week, designated as “Donation Week.” After learning about these charities in depth, each student is given five plastic tokens that he or she apportions during Donation Week to the organizations. Each student decides how to distribute his or her own chips. Some decide to share them evenly because they find the organizations equally moving and deserving. Others may choose to allot all of their chips to one charity they find especially inspiring. Families, as well as faculty and staff members, are also asked to contribute to the Rashi Tamchui collection. The more donations received from members of the school community, the greater the value of each token. Donations are made privately, and every child receives five tokens, regardless of whether his or her family has contributed to the collective “pot.”
As a highlight to Education Week, representatives from each non-profit come to Rashi to present to the students, teachers, and parents. Meeting face-to-face and hearing from the individuals who are integrally involved in the work has a deep, long-lasting impact on the children. At Rashi, we call the representatives “tzedakah heroes” – ordinary people taking extraordinary action to help repair the world. On this culminating day, our students are given the opportunity not only to personally extend kavod (honor and respect) to the representatives, but also to consider how they (the students) themselves might apply their own passions and talents to help repair the world – now and in the future.
Through our 18-year old Tamchui project, the Rashi community has studied more than 80 child-centered organizations from all over the world and donated more than $100,000 to support their vital work. This tradition will persist far beyond its chai year!
Jacki Hart, MD, is a parent whose children attend the Rashi School. Stephanie Rotsky is the Rashi School’s social justice coordinator.