Hebrew School Taught Me About Tzedekah, but It Needed to Have Taught Me about Tzedek, Too.

My biggest learning memory—outside of beginning to understand the depths of horror of the Holocaust—is around tzedakah, charity. Teaching children to give back to their community, especially people less fortunate than they are, is a net positive. It’s a no-brainer: be kind to other people, yes, of course.

But if we don’t teach them about the structures that create homelessness and poverty, we’re doing a disservice to our children, our community, and Judaism. Ultimately, this does nothing to actually repair the world—tikkun olam— and it ignores our deep and profound history of our struggle for justice. 

I had to learn all of that on my own, or at least, outside of the walls of my synagogue. I ultimately became politicized because of the alienation I felt around my education, both secular and Jewish. My classmates and I were told to do things, told they were important, but when we asked why things were the way they were, we were met with blank stares. 

I don’t blame my teachers who didn’t have the answers, but the lack of connection to our justice-based history is a failure of American Jewry.

MINDY ISSER on the Lilith Blog.