SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – As teachers of 3-year-olds for a combined total of 26 years, Sue Kaplan and Karen Aschenbrenner, both of Maplewood, had never felt they were able to effectively convey the abstract Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tsedakah (charity). They’d asked the children to contribute pocket change to a class tsedakah box but the children’s concept of money, a symbolic representation of value, was sketchy at best. The teachers did their best to explain the importance of giving to those less fortunate, but they never had the feeling the children were able to connect money with value, at least not in any way that felt real to them.

When Sue began to work for the TSTI soup kitchen each month, she realized that food was something children “got.” They could easily understand the feeling of hunger and they could easily see the effect of giving some of their food to someone who didn’t have any. The idea was born to begin collecting food in the classroom. The program culminated last week with a visit from Janet Schwamm, Food Pantry Coordinator at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, who explained to the children what a food pantry is. Two days later the class brought their box of food to the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges where they sorted the food into categories and helped bag it for distribution to the needy. They were able to see the patrons they were helping and Janet explained to them the importance of giving with good will, of smiling and wishing them each a pleasant day.

The experience was a huge success: the children got a direct, concrete lesson in repairing the world, from bringing the food from home to sorting and distributing it to those less fortunate. They saw the faces of people who looked just like them but whose families couldn’t provide the plenty they had in their own homes, and they had the chance to do something about it. We hope they’ve learned that they can affect change and that they’ll take that knowledge with them into the future.

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a Reform congregation that welcomes all who wish to participate in and celebrate Jewish traditions and rituals. It is recognized for its education, programs, worship services, community events, and groups dedicated to a wide array of religious, social, and educational interests.  The temple draws members from many towns including South Orange, Maplewood, Short Hills, Millburn, Livingston and West Orange.