Tzedek and Tzedakah: Justice and Giving in Your Celebration

There are many ways to extend the joy of your celebration by taking the opportunity to donate or volunteer, and to invite your guests to do so, as well.

In Putting God on the Guest List, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin invites teens approaching bar and bat mitzvah to be creative in their choice of mitzvot/good deeds: “Read through your Torah portion and haftarah. Is there something in those portions that suggests a particular kind of mitzvah? The Abraham stories talk about hospitality; the stories of liberation from Egypt suggest various kinds of social justice causes; the construction of the desert sanctuary in Exodus lends itself to support of your local synagogue. Let your deeds speak with the Torah’s voice. It will be a wonderful way of adding meaning to your bar and bat mitzvah experience.”
)Ask your guests to bring items to donate
A teen who is becoming bar or bat mitzvah can invite party guests to bring a donation item, in lieu of or in addition to gifts: canned items for a food bank, toiletries for a homeless shelter, school supplies for a youth program, or books for a local library.

Plan ahead by calling the organization for which you are collecting items and asking what they need most. Then, your teen can share information with guests about the organization they chose to receive these donations. Or, teens can consider donating some of the checks they themselves receive as bar or bat mitzvah gifts towards tzedakah and sharing information about the organization they chose in their thank-you notes.

Consider a service activity as your party
Some bar and bat mitzvah teens have organized community service activities for their friends instead of a dance party.

San Francisco Bay Area Volunteer Information Center
,, can suggest many ideas for group volunteering parties for teens and families with a variety of local organizations. Other options include the Volunteer Center, (415.982.8999), and Hands On Bay Area, (415.541.9616).

For those in the LA area, L.A. Works, (323.224.6510), provides a searchable listing of local organizations seeking volunteers, with a special search function for opportunities ideal for groups or teams.

Consider supporting LGBTQ rights and equality
In honor of your wedding celebration, you can donate money to groups working to support LGBTQ rights and fighting for marriage equality. You can always donate to your local LGBTQ Center, or support organizations such as these:

Marriage Equality USA, (510.496.2700), and Freedom to Marry, (212.851.8418), work on a national level to promote marriage equality.

California Faith for Equality
, (323.677.2525), and Jews for Marriage Equality,, work to engage faith leaders and communities in the struggle for equality.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, (415.392.6257), works to promote marriage equality and to oppose discrimination against LGBT people in the military.

Community United Against Violence (CUAV), (415.777.5500), works to prevent and respond to violence against and within our diverse LGBTQQ communities.

Jewish programs for giving on happy occasions
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, (310.442.0020), asks Jewish families to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration to MAZON, and provides table notes to share this choice with guests. MAZON makes grants to anti-hunger organizations around the country.

Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ)
, (212.213.2113 x46), offers two “lifecycle giving” programs, both of which offer Jewish families an opportunity to support nationwide anti-poverty work on the occasion of a celebration.

  • A Youth Endowment Fund (minimum $1100) engages young people in thoughtful philanthropy and fighting poverty.
  • A Wedding Fund (minimum $1500) gives couples the opportunity to direct tzedakah given by their guests to organizations supported by JFSJ that are promoting economic justice in their community. Wedding attendees contribute to the fund.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
(RAC), (202.387.2800), can create a B’nai Mitzvah Justice Endowment Fund (minimum $1000) in the name of a bar or bat mitzvah teen. The RAC will give the young endowee an annual choice of four social justice projects to receive support from their funds. The program not only provides vital funding for the RAC in its work to advance social justice, but also gives teens an opportunity to practice thoughtful philanthropy. When the endowees turn 21, they become members of the RAC’s Tzedek Society.

At Jewish Community Teen Foundations, (650.919.2100), bar/bat mitzvah teens can use some or all of the cash gifts they receive while in seventh grade to create their own philanthropic fund with a group of their peers in eighth and ninth grade. Through the process, they can learn about fundraising and philanthropy. The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation provides, through the program’s funders, a one-to-one match of each teen’s contribution, as well as offering groups throughout the Bay Area that provide teens with the opportunity to learn how to become effective grant-makers and strategic philanthropists.

Similarly, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles provides several opportunities for teens and young adults to have leadership and philanthropic experience at

Gift Money to Invest? Choose Socially Responsible Investing
Bar and bat mitzvah teens sometimes receive cash gifts and have an opportunity not only to give their first significant gifts to tzedakah but also to make a first investment in mutual funds or stocks. Sometimes newlywed couples end up with sizable cash gifts, too.

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) incorporates environmental and social considerations into investment decisions. SRI mutual funds screen companies based on social and environmental criteria, advocate for corporate responsibility, and often place a share of their holdings in community investments in low-income communities, all of which puts invested money to work for good in the marketplace. If a bar/bat mitzvah teen receives enough gift money (say, $500-1000) to make a first foray into investing, invite them to invest according to Jewish values.

To purchase Green America’s Guide to Socially Responsible Investing, an introductory handbook with a directory of SRI investment services and funds, visit or call 800-58-GREEN. To view their Social Investment Forum’s SRI Mutual Fund Chart, visit

Jewish Funds for Justice, (212.213.2113), recently issued a community investment “note” that invites the Jewish community to fight poverty by loaning at least $1000 through Calvert Funds, a family of socially responsible investment funds. You can pick the term of the loan; for example, bar and bat mitzvah teens can set the loan for five years, and get the money back in time for college.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave the corners for the poor and the stranger.”
--Vayikra/Leviticus 23:22

“Giving tzedakah is a way of spreading the joy of the occasion while acknowledging that even the greatest personal happiness is incomplete as long as the world is so badly in need of repair.”
—Anita Diamant, The New Jewish Wedding
“Socially responsible investing involves the consideration of social and personal values in deciding where to invest our dollars. We do so in recognition that everything we do involving money makes a moral statement; every time we spend or invest money, we are making ethical, political, and economic choices.”
—Ellen Stromberg, in Jews, Money & Social Responsibility
Have suggestions? Real-life stories using these or other ideas? Please share them with us for future versions of the Guide!