“Last call for the pushke!” That’s a phrase one can expect to hear every Friday night in the minyan room at Temple Israel, just as reliably as the psalm for Shabbat or the shema. It’s a tradition with a long history that recently passed a milestone.
There have been pushkes in the Temple Israel minyan room as long as anyone can remember—from those old blue and white metal boxes to plastic ones and even cardboard. Temple Israel members have been generous over the years—and not just on Friday nights when tzedakah is a mitzvah. Members began dropping in a few coins and occasionally, a bill, as they passed through the minyan room to get to other places in the synagogue.
During a 2007 trip to Israel, Rabbi Michael Panitz saw something that gave him an idea for a minyan room pushke upgrade. He visited Yad La Kashish, ‘Lifeline for the Old’, a sheltered workshop for economically disadvantaged seniors in Jerusalem, where elderly artisans receive training that allows them to produce beautiful hand-made crafts and Judaica that is then sold to fund their many programs.
The box pictured here was meant to hold an esrog, but Panitz asked if they could produce the word ‘tzedakah’ and affix it to the box. They were happy to oblige.
Returning home with the pushke, the rabbi suggested that each Rosh Chodesh the minyan regulars get together to decide where they’d like to send the previous month’s tzedakah. The minyanaires, as they dubbed themselves, responded enthusiastically and generously. Their donations, along with those of guests and members who attend to say kaddish, have gone to both local and Israeli causes.
Long-time member Lois Einhorn began keeping a record of the contributions, and recently advised the temple that the minyanaires had reached a milestone: as of November 1, the pushke had received and donated more than $70,000. Among the many recipients: American Red Magen David for Israel, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Braille Institute, and of course, Yad La Kashish.