December 29, 2011
We were never a very religious family. I remember going to temple only a few times – twice a year on holy days and one special time for my Bat Mitzvah, of course. Even today, at 22 years old, I still have to be reminded of why we light the menorah on Hanukah.
But one story has always stuck with me – why we give tzedakah. During this time of year my brother and I donate, what was once our loose change, to a charity of our choice. Judaism dictates that tzedakah is not voluntary like philanthropy. In fact, Talmudic scripture describes that this tzedakah money belongs to the recipient and so it is my duty to pass it on with care. According to the rabbi Maimonedes, the best form of tzedakah is to give a gift that empowers the recipient to support himself rather than living upon others.
This year, my brother and I would like to give a gift that will last. Unlike clothes or toys, this tzedakah is one that will last for years to come. It is the gift of empowerment through the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
In Haiti, when a girl my age gets raped, she often has nowhere to turn. Women, especially poor women, are not respected in police stations or listened to in courtrooms. IJDH’s Rape Accountability & Prevention Project (RAPP) is changing this. The project not only forces the police and courts to take women victims seriously, it also trains women to enforce their own rights, by themselves and with their organizations. When women and girls are empowered, their lives become not just safer, but more prosperous. Because women who can enforce their rights can earn their way out of poverty and educate their children.
Donating to IJDH is not just a gift. It is an investment. By building the rule of law and empowering marginalized groups like women, immigrants, and prisoners, IJDH empowers Haiti’s poor to build their own better tomorrow. This is what tzedakah is all about, and why my tzedakah will go to IJDH.