At Pasadena’s Weizmann Day School, the region’s only Jewish Day School, students have been performing this year’s Middah of loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 18:19) since fall and the rewards have been palpable.
The Generations program, Weizmann’s tenth annual multi-generational project of giving back, is one way they’re teaching this and other vital values to students,” says Lisa Feldman, Head of School. “We say Generations because not everyone has a grandparent. It might be an aunt or uncle, a neighbor, or friend working together to perform charitable deeds and activities where,” according to Feldman, “adults are actually learning from the kids.” Feldman feels it’s important that Weizmann students are involved in Mitzvah projects all the time. “Other schools do community service around the holidays …but I want a Weizmann student to know that we take care of the world every day that we’re in school.”
The Generations program evolved from WDS’s desire to celebrate the intergenerational community. “For many years we’ve been sharing Shabbat together because that was a place of unity,” says Feldman. Now an added dimension of Generations is everyone working together for a better world. “Since we’re making sandwiches every year at Thanksgiving time, why not invite grandparents and neighbors to join us? That multi-age experience is invaluable,” adds Feldman. The faculty divided students into two groups. Kindergarten through third grade made sandwiches to bag along with an apple and a snack, plus a “Have a good day, thinking of you,” note tucked inside. Feldman was proud they decided to make it a package deal this year. On Monday and Tuesday the children made 50 sandwiches daily with their teachers. Together with their guests, students made 100 sandwiches on Wednesday. Then every day after the sandwiches were prepared, one of the teachers delivered the packets to Union Station, giving patrons there fresh lunches three days in a row.
“What was most meaningful to me,” says Feldman, “is that all of our students counted their Tzedakah money, money they collect on Fridays. Now to be honest, we had money from last year that we hadn’t yet donated so they combined last year’s and this year’s money. In one case they took it to the store, where it gets thrown in that coin sorter machine, then they got cash and used their Tzedakah money to buy items at the supermarket for Union Station. The first through third graders walked with their teachers to Vons and did the shopping. So it really wasn’t, ‘Hey Mom, can I have five dollars that I can donate for Tzedakah?’ It felt like their money.”
Fourth through eighth graders comprised the second group. Fourth graders actually have a mitzvah project visiting Friends Indeed, a food bank in the community where sweeping floors, and shelving items are just a few of the possible chores. “They love going and the people at Friends Indeed love that we come,” says Feldman. Knowing that these upper grade students feel they can make a difference prompted faculty to ask Friends Indeed what they needed. The response: toiletry items, big tubes of toothpaste, deodorant, not just the travel sizes. “They wanted real things for their people to feel dignity and pride.” With grandparents’ or neighbors’ help, students assembled packets and included a nice note. Inside the toiletry packages delivered to Friends Indeed by the fourth grade and fifth grade volunteers were a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a bar of soap, and some cat food! “When we asked Friends Indeed what they wanted, think about that,” remarks Feldman, “these people who have nothing, are thinking about their own pets. Our children, which is very age appropriate, really identified with pets, and brought in cat food.”
Additionally, student council members who sell Boker Tov bagels on Rosh Chodesh, and make a little money, donated their proceeds toward purchasing items for the sandwiches and toiletries. _
Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine. You can find her blog at goodreadswithronna.com.