Although Christmas and New Years are not a Jewish holiday, they are days when stores and offices are closed, children are off from school and families are home together... making it the perfect time to reach out and assist those in need. Our rabbis teach that “for the sake of peace” it is our responsibility to provide support for the non-Jewish community, just as we help the Jewish community. We can use this day off as an opportunity to assist those in hospitals, homeless shelters, and in soup kitchens and provide Christian staff members a day off with their families.
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Jewish Texts and Values
- If your neighbors become poor and their means fail them, then you shall strengthen them, be they strangers or settlers, they shall live with you. Leviticus 25:35
- Give to the needy readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Eternal your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. Deuteronomy 15:10
- Our rabbis taught: We provide support to the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor, and we visit the non-Jewish sick along with the Jewish sick. And we bury the non-Jewish dead along with the Jewish dead, because these are the paths of peace. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a
- Tzedakah at Christmas: Several years ago Congregation Emeth (Gilroy, CA) became aware that the local soup kitchen, sponsored by the Catholic church, was unable to serve meals on Christmas day due to the volunteers’ desire to spend the day with their own families. The congregation stepped in and began a tradition of preparing and serving the meals in their place. This has been a highly successful venture and has created a great deal of good will between the synagogue and the Catholic Church. The congregation also provides a Santa and all of the volunteers necessary to make the meal and serve it.
- Forgetting Chinese Food and the Movies: Larchmont Temple (Larchmont, NY) along with two Girl Scout troops “adopted” forty-two needy families during the winter holidays by providing toys, clothing, and household items for the children and adults. Many of the children in the congregation helped pick out gifts and were involved in this program. In addition, the Temple helps lead an annual Christmas dinner at the YWCA in Brooklyn. Over 1,500 guests eat their holiday meal at the YWCA with more than 500 temple members helping out to make this program a success. In addition to dinner, the Temple also provides clothing, take-home meals, and new toys for the guests.
- Institutional volunteering: Volunteering at local hospitals, nursing homes and other institutional settings allows Christian employees the ability to spend the holiday with their families. In this way, Jewish volunteers give back to the community when they have free time and it is most appreciated by others. Congregations can organize volunteers into multiple groups, thereby spreading the number of volunteers throughout their towns and cities. For example, members of Temple Beth Shalom (Austin, TX) volunteer to work at local hospitals during Christmas day. Similarly, members of Temple Israel (Tulsa, OK) volunteer every Christmas at a local homeless center. Volunteers sort clothes, distribute shower supplies, play musical instruments, and greet the guests.
- Holiday Parties: Involve the youth group as well as families by helping to organize a Christmas party for a local orphanage, visiting the children’s ward at a hospital, or spending time at a nursing home. What better way to show the importance of outreach than by getting the next generation of the Jewish community involved in projects such as these?
Important Note: Although many employees will be thankful to have the opportunity to take the day off, be sure to coordinate such projects with the staff of the local institutions (hospitals, nursing homes, etc) as well as the managers. For many employees, working on Christmas provides an opportunity for needed overtime pay. Be sure your good intentions don’t inadvertently harm low-income workers and will actually be appreciated.