The Tzedek Box seeks to mobilize the descendants of Abraham who spoke truth to divine power, of Moses and Miriam who stood up to tyranny and led the people to freedom, of the prophets who insisted on righteousness, of generations of justice-seekers who have demanded better from those in positions of authority.
The Hebrew words tzedakah and tzedek come from the same tz-d-k root: righteousness. Tzedakah tries to address an immediate need of the vulnerable. Tzedek seeks to tackle the root of the issue. Both are necessary.
In a Tzedakah box, we put coins. In a Tzedek Box, we put slips of paper on which we've written our most recent contributions to justice ("I called my senator," "I sent postcards to potential voters") and our feelings and thoughts about it ("I need to get my sister to do this, too"). Once a year (on Pesach Sheni, a month after Passover), we open our boxes and reflect collectively on the work we've done and the work still to do.
A Tzedek Box prompts us to pause and reflect. A Tzedek Box provides sacred accountability. A Tzedek Box helps us ask the Eternal for partnership in the work of repairing the world.
Summer 2018. Inspiration. As Jewish organizations worked to mobilize thousands for justice, a group of friends began to ask: "How might we build new Jewish ritual that strengthens our sacred accountability and deepens our spiritual nourishment for the work of societal improvement?"
2018-19. Design Sprints. Events in Jerusalem and New York brought dozens together to imagine a new Jewish justice ritual. What would a "Yom HaTzedek" look like?
2019-20. Testing. Pilot groups seized upon the idea of a Tzedek Box as a consistent touchstone to spark an annual ritual. Hebrew schools, teen groups, Hillels, synagogues, rabbinical schools and friend groups test the concept.
High Holidays 2020. Launch. After months of development, the iPhone and website are ready for the public to try.
Justice has been a cornerstone of Jewish heritage since its founding texts, and American Jewish justice organizations have done outstanding work to uphold this legacy for years. But what would it take for more of us "Jews in the pews" -- and not in the pews -- to bring the fullness of our capabilities to ensure the dignity of all people?
Originally an idea coming out of the New York Wexner Heritage Program in 2018, the notion of a “Yom HaTzedek” quickly attracted a team of lay leaders, rabbis, rabbinical and cantorial students to imagine how an annual holiday -- as one way to build expectations, promote collective behavior and provide spiritual grounding -- might enrich the Jewish commitment to justice. In the spring of 2019, rabbinical student Andrew Mandel and a team of peers held design events in Jerusalem and New York -- as well as a livestream with international participation -- to brainstorm various possibilities over the course of a morning. The New York event at the UJA Federation of New York included leaders from AVODAH, JFREJ, Jewish Multiracial Network, Torah Trumps Hate, T’ruah, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, Yeshivat Maharat, 92nd Street Y, Hillel, Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Repair the World, UJA Federation of New York, Lab/Shul, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Park Avenue Synagogue, West End Synagogue, and more. At both the Jerusalem and the New York design events, participants proposed the idea of a "tzedek box" -- like a tzedakah box, but focused explicitly on justice -- as one of the potential concepts to try.
Starting in the fall of 2019, pilot teams from New York to North Dakota to New Zealand -- with special thanks to New York City's Central Synagogue, Westchester Reform Temple, the Academy of Jewish Religion, Orangetown Jewish Center, Union Temple of Brooklyn, Brown-RISD Hillel, Repair the World sites around the country, and the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable -- then tested various ideas, including the Tzedek Box, with the help of educational materials developed by Shirah Kraus, a rabbinical student in Cincinnati.
The idea caught traction, but some people needed ideas for what action to take -- or wanted more of an interactive, social experience. Thanks to a grant from Hebrew Union College's Be Wise Entrepreneurial Fellowship, developer Edon Valdman from Valdman Works was able to create the Tzedek Box app, which nearly 200 individuals helped to test over the nine-month development process. We launched our iPhone app in September 2020.
2021 has been busy! We have been building an amazing volunteer team to grow our reach, preparing an Android version of the app, and planning a very special Yom HaTzedek virtual celebration featuring co-hosts Rain Pryor and Kelly Whitehead, as well as musical guests Kalix Jacobson and Ellen Dreskin. We have big dreams to take this initiative coast-to-coast and around the world.