DEDHAM – An NPR reporter once asked a kindergarten class at The Rashi School what Purim Tamchui, the annual tzedakah program, meant to them.
“A girl raised her hand and said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’m gonna be when I’m 5, and I don’t know if I’ll have money when I’m 5, but there’s ways that we can help the world, and whatever I can do, I’m gonna do,” recounted Heidi Chapple, the head of the Lower School at Rashi, a Reform Jewish day school in Dedham. “If our children grow up thinking that way, the world’s going to be a better place.”
Making a difference finds its way into many parts of Rashi’s curriculum, but one of the centerpieces is the Purim Tamchui Project, which has donated more than $180,000 to over 100 organizations since its inception in 1996. The project derives its name from an Aramaic word meaning “community collection pot,” which were found in medieval Jewish communities. Anyone in the community could contribute to the pot, and anyone who needed could take from it.
At The Rashi School in 2019, students in kindergarten through eighth grade choose one of four causes to support after spending a week learning about each one. A representative gives a presentation to the school after the organizations are selected by a committee of parents and teachers. This year’s choices are Klinik Jubilee, which promotes health and healthcare access in Haiti; the Leatherback Trust, which promotes conservation of the leatherback sea turtle; Innovation: Africa, which brings Israeli solar and water technologies to remote African villages; and Sandy Hook Promise (for grades 5 through 8), which works to prevent gun-related deaths.
Teachers are able to tie in the missions of the organizations to topics students are already learning. For example, after hearing about water purification projects from Innovation: Africa, second-grade science classes tried it for themselves.
“We bring in dirty water from outside in the Charles [River], and [the second graders] have to figure out how to get the cleanest water by filtering it using screens, cotton balls, rocks, sand, and coffee filters,” said Chapple. “If there is an organization, we will look to see how that fits into the curriculum.”
After two weeks of presentations, discussions, and hands-on activities, students are ready to make an educated choice about which organization they should support. Their donations are in the form of poker chips worth $10, which are sponsored by $10 donations from each family (though parents ultimately choose how much to give). Once students have made a decision, they go to a Tamchui collection pot in the middle of the school and donate their tokens however they’d like. Afterward, students are interviewed about their decisions.
“We want them to be philanthropists in whatever way they can, and to know that there’s reasoning behind where they’re putting their time and their money,” said Chapple.
“Deciding which organization to give to is definitely not easy,” said Sam K., a sixth grader. “It means a lot that we can make the choice to give to which one inspires us.”
On March 20, during Purim, there will be a schoolwide celebration to honor all of the money and awareness that was raised. Representatives from each organization, in addition to one student who feels strongly about its mission, give presentations.
“When I was younger, I thought that adults were the only ones who made a difference,” said Alexis W., a fourth grader. “When I learned about Tamchui, it helped me realize that kids could make a difference.”