TEACHING MY SON TO GIVE, BEFORE HE CAN GIVE BACK
About a month ago was our community's annual celebration of community and philanthropy, the BIGGIVE. As a professional at the Jewish Federation, I was slated to work in the afternoon, so Jared decided to make calls in the evening. This way we could switch off watching Avi and avoid paying for childcare. Even though there was an hour to kill in between my assignment and Jared's call session, I decided I didn't want to go right home. I wanted Jared to bring Avi to the BIGGIVE and I would take him home from there.
I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about why this was important to me. Logistically, this decision didn't make a whole lot of sense. It meant Avi would be at the BIGGIVE precisely during his dinner time and would probably end up going to sleep late. It would have been far easier for me to meet him at home.
So what exactly was the point? Did I really think that at 7 months old, Avi would get something out of this experience? While it's impossible to pinpoint exactly when understanding or memory begins for a child, I'm fairly confident Avi wouldn't remember his first Federation event. There are studies that suggest that we are, in fact, creating memories as infants and young children, but these memories fade as we get older. I don't remember the first time I went to shul or the first time I walked through the backyard to get to my best friend's house. But those same studies suggest that our brains do not process memories as isolated events. They build upon one another and shape who we are in complex ways. So while we may not remember specific moments in time from our childhood, these moments have the ability to leave indelible marks on our identities. In my mind, I've always gone to shul. I've always sneaked through the backyard to go to my friend's house. And perhaps for that reason, I consider those things to be a part of my identity. Jared and I are active shul-goers and my best friend down the block is still my closest friend.
I think about this a lot as a new parent. I am not naive enough to think that I will be able to control all of Avi's values and the man he will ultimately become. But I do know that, as parents, we have the incredible opportunity to decide what will be our children's first experiences. We have the honor of deciding what they will be exposed to – what will be unique and what will be part of their daily lives. When Avi talks to his friends in 20 years, how will he finish the sentence, "When I was a kid, we always used to..."?
So some people may think it's funny that I made a point of bringing Avi to the BIGGIVE at 7- months old. He doesn't understand philanthropy or tikkun olam (the Jewish concept of Repairing the World). He doesn't yet understand the concept of community. But one day he will understand. One day I will say to him, "We're going to the BIGGIVE this weekend," and he will know what I'm talking about. One day he'll understand where the coins go that we put into his tzedakah box (charity box**). And hopefully, through these seemingly small but regular acts, tikkun olam and the idea of our obligation to take care of one another won't be just a concept to him… it will be something that he's always done and part of his identity.
**Charity box is the best English translation for tzedakah box, although it does not fully translate the meaning. Tzedakah literally means justice - we raise money so that we can bring more justice into the world)