From the Shalom Austin CEO: Tzedakah: Jewish Austin's Power to Change Our Community, Our City and Our World

From the Shalom Austin CEO: Tzedakah: Jewish Austin's Power to Change Our Community, Our City and Our World

Shalom Austin’s mission is to enhance the quality of Jewish life in the greater Austin area and around the world through philanthropy, education, social service, culture, spirituality and total wellness.  

We are guided by the Jewish values of kehillah (community building), limmud (the centrality of learning and Jewish culture), tikkun olam (the commitment to make the world a better place), tzedakah (pursuing justice through acts of Jewish giving) and k’lal yisrael (the oneness and unity of the Jewish people worldwide).  For the next five months beginning with this issue, I will be highlighting how each Jewish value enhances the quality of Jewish life in our community.  

This month I would like to focus on tzedakah. It is through the act of charity that we bring more righteousness to the world. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on “Tzedakah Defined” on YouTube asks what the correct English translation of tzedakah is. Is it charity? Is it justice or righteousness? He says it is both charity and justice, and no English word can capture the complete meaning and importance of tzedakah because something cannot be both charity and justice at the same time in the English language.

To illustrate his point, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks uses the example of someone giving you $1,000. If someone gives you $1,000 because they owe it to you, that is justice. If someone gives it to you out of the kindness of one’s heart because you need it, that is charity. In Judaism charity and justice are bonded “like superglue” in one concept. Why? In our tradition, what we possess, we don’t ultimately own. It belongs to G-d and G-d lends it to us in trust that we will share it with others in need. Therefore, “charity is justice and justice takes the form of charity.” He goes on to conclude, “…for that, we need the word tzedakah; that is one word that has the power to change the world.”    

I am continually inspired by our community’s acts of tzedakah. As you will read in this issue, there are several moving stories of tzedakah. I witnessed my own child learn and participate in raising money for Dell Children’s Hospital, one of the many ways our Early Childhood Program teaches our kids Jewish values. I had the honor of attending the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Day to Shine Gala honoring our very own community members Jeff and Val Newberg for their leadership in making Austin a better place to live for those who are vulnerable in our community. And finally, we must not forget that tzedakah needs to be directed to our own Jewish community.  This October, members of our Jewish community will participate in the 2018 Israel Ride to benefit the Arava Institute and Hazon.  

I invite everyone to find meaningful ways to be involved in tzedakah. Challenge yourself to give Jewishly and to causes outside the Jewish community. Our continued and increased engagement in the Jewish value of tzedakah indeed has the power to change our Jewish community, the greater Austin area and the world. 

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