As part of an initiative to address the growing problem of poverty in the general and Jewish communities, the Union for Reform Judaism encourages congregations to become involved in Ner Shel Tzedakah, a program to raise public awareness and educate the Jewish community about poverty on the 6th night of Chanukah. For our tradition teaches:
"...share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, clothe them, and do not ignore your own kin." (Isaiah 58:7)
On the 6th night of Chanukah, we encourage families to teach their children about the needs of those less fortunate and donate the value of the gifts they would ordinarily exchange (or the gifts themselves) to local or national organizations assisting the poor. The process of deciding where and how to fulfill this mitzvah can itself be a fun and engaging family project. Projects can be hands-on service work, advocacy efforts, global efforts or local projects.
The 6th night of Chanukah is also a time when communities might organize programs that highlight poverty in the Jewish and general communities. Rabbis and community leaders are encouraged to use this opportunity to speak publicly on poverty issues. Congregations can organize service opportunities on the 6th day of Chanukah for individuals to provide hands-on community service to those in need.
As American society continues to wrestle with its responsibilities to the less fortunate in its midst, there is an increasingly urgent need for American Jews, along with our coalition partners in ethnic and interfaith communities, to fulfill the mandate of tikkun olam by reaching out to families and individuals in crisis, particularly through grass-roots, volunteer-driven social action programs.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated that we have the power and the wealth to overcome poverty and disease - but not the wisdom to build the political will to do so. The Union for Reform Judaism intends to build that will and engage the American Jewish community in the endeavor.
A Blessing to recite on the 6th night of Chanukah
Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, Asher Kidshanu B'mitzvotav, V'limdeinu L'Hadlik Ner Shel Tzedakah
Blessed are You, Eternal, our God, who makes us holy through the performance of Mitzvot, and inspires us to light the Candle of Righteousness.
As we light this "Ner Shel Tzedakah" tonight, we pray that its light will shine into the dark corners of our world, bringing relief to those suffering from the indignity and pain that accompany poverty. May our act of giving inspire others to join with us in the fight against the scourge of hunger, homelessness, need and want. Together, let us raise our voices to cry out for justice, and may that clarion call burst through the night's silence and declare that change must come.