By Jane Matlaw, former Board Member
When my children were young, they got something small each night of Hanukkah. Growing up, my parents had demonstrated the importance of giving back and I wanted to pass this value onto my children, as well. I wanted not just to talk about, but actually engage in philanthropy. We began a tradition of foregoing gifts on one night and giving to a nonprofit organization whose work promoted our values and what we believed in. I wanted to demonstrate to my children that giving back is part of our Jewish and family tradition, and that financial philanthropy was one of many ways to do so.
At first, they were too young to play a significant role in deciding where we gave our family Hanukkah gift. But as they got older, they became more involved. They began to do their own research into what the organizations supported, their missions and values, and how they spent the funds. They became more invested in the annual tradition and even started to contribute some of their own money!
Throughout the years, the tradition unfolded alongside conversations about tzedekah (charity), and tzedek, (justice). We talked about how lucky we were to have our health, a home, food, and a sense of safety and security. And they learned what issues and causes they cared about and what mattered to them. We focused as much as we could on local organizations—I wanted my children to know that their help was needed as much at home as elsewhere in the world.
Many years ago, we lost a cousin to AIDS. When they were old enough, we participated in the AIDS walk and my children started donating money to the AIDS Action Committee. Even though they are grown now, and live on the west coast, they continue to support my fundraising efforts for the walk.
Out of this project grew a lifelong commitment to philanthropy and action. To this day, my children contribute to charities and nonprofit organizations that address social justice issues.
My own passion for giving includes Mayyim Hayyim, of course—an organization that depends on individual donors like you and me for 75% of its funding. Like the little bit of oil that miraculously burned bright for eight days, every contribution helps spread the light of accessible, dynamic Jewish ritual found at Mayyim Hayyim.
This Hanukkah, I hope you’ll consider starting your own giving tradition with Mayyim Hayyim. You can share that light here.
Jane Matlaw, MSW, LICSW is the former Director of Community Relations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Jane has been a member of many boards and community groups, including Mayyim Hayyim and Jewish Vocational Services. Jane is a graduate of Boston University and Boston University School of Social Work. She lives in Newtonville and is the proud mother of two sons, one of whom lives in Somerville with his wife and new baby.