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.
In Judaism, there are a variety of ways in which we are called to serve our world.
There's chesed, responding to an immediate need with loving-kindness. When someone is hungry, we feed them. When someone is sick, we visit them. This is chesed.
There's tzedek, seeking to address the root cause of a wrong in society, so that no one has to experience that particular pain again. Instead of lifting an individual in a wheelchair up a step to enter a building, we raise our voice until the owner installs a ramp.
Tzedakah is specifically righteous giving -- and may respond to an immediate need (e.g. donating to a food bank) or address a root cause (e.g. donating to a job training non-profit). It comes from the same tz-d-k root in Hebrew as tzedek, meaning righteousness. Tzedakah is not "charity" that we give out of the goodness of our heart; we are obligated to give. It is our responsibility to help create a world of dignity for all people.
It will require all of our chesed, tzedek and tzedakah to repair the world's brokenness. If we spent all of our time lobbying in Washington fighting for long-term change, we would be neglecting people's immediate needs. If we spend all of our time meeting immediate needs, things would never change in the long-run. At Tzedek Box, we affirm all of it.
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 a better world ("I called my senator," "I spoke out against racism") and our feelings and thoughts about it ("I need to encourage 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. Given that none of us can do this work alone, 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.
In 2020-21, we built an amazing volunteer team to grow our reach, launched the Android version of the app (also thanks to "Be Wise"), and held 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 (thanks to the Jewish Education Project). In 2021-22, we launched our Tzedek Circle series, monthly themed programming hosted virtually by Dena Robinson and Darin Lim Yankowitz. Renowned artist Tobi Kahn created an exquisite set of physical Tzedek Boxes for display, and both New York's Jewish Museum and the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles have acquired a piece each.
In 2022-23, we partnered with Israeli artist Eli Kaplan Wildmann to produce a Tzedek Box for home use; a dozen different institutions purchased a total of 8,300 Tzedek Boxes distributed to each of their member households. We were also proud to work with Be the Change, an art and activism initiative in Boston, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles, as well as mount a major exhibition at the Heller Museum in New York City featuring the Tzedek Boxes of 30 different artists from around the world.
In 2023-24, we hired our first part-time professional, Rabbi Heather Shore, to support communities in using Tzedek Boxes. We are planning some exciting partnerships with a range of organizations eager to start filling their boxes, so stay tuned.