Toronto and Ontario is home to a thriving and diverse Jewish population, with Jewish people of all denominations, backgrounds and cultures coming together in the community. But many Jewish people and families still face similar challenges as other communities, including houselessness, substance use disorders and employment, among others. The Jewish community also faces increasing levels of antisemitism across Canada, which can often make other challenges worse.
One of the mitzvahs – good deeds – that Jewish people around the world hold close to their heart is called Tzedakah, a Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness”. Tzedakah is a responsibility of all Jews to help those in need, through acts of service, tangible goods or financial donations. In many Jewish homes, you’ll find a Tzedakah box or a Pushke, where anyone entering the home can put money in the box and when it’s full, it’s donated to charity.
This Jewish Heritage Month, you can also join the Jewish community in the mitzvah of Tzedakah and help people in vulnerable populations, including Jewish people and families.
Organizations helping vulnerable populations:
- Ve’ahavta – A Jewish humanitarian organization that primarily works to service underhoused individuals both in and out of the Jewish community
- Chai Lifeline Canada – Works with children and parents who are facing life-threatening or life-long illness
- JACS – An organization committed to delivering education, programming, care and support to those affected by addiction in the Jewish community and beyond
- Jewish Family and Child Services – Provides services and supports to vulnerable members of the Jewish and broader communities
- JVS Toronto – A vocational services organization serving populations in and outside of the Jewish community
- Kayla’s Children’s Centre – A school, therapy clinic and recreational centre for children with disabilities, behavioural challenges and complex medical needs; KCC is founded on Jewish education and tradition but welcomes children of all abilities, religious affiliations and needs
- Reena – An organization promoting dignity, individuality, independence, personal grown and community inclusion for people with diverse abilities within a framework of Jewish culture and values
While all these organizations help individuals and families in and out of the Jewish community, there are also organizations specifically committed to educating and combatting antisemitism, which has a direct impact on Jewish communities across the country.
Organizations committed to educating and combatting antisemitism:
- B’nai Brith Canada
- Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation
- Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- UJA Federation of Great Toronto
- Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (under the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)
The beauty of a mitzvah or Tzedakah is that you don’t have to donate financially to accomplish a good deed. You can make a meal for someone vulnerable or who needs the help; you can participate in Bikur Cholim, a fundamental Jewish value of visiting the sick; or volunteer at a local non-profit or school. In Judaism it is taught that each of us has something to contribute to others, and performing mitzvot is a deeply-rooted Jewish value.
Even if you aren’t in the position to contribute to organizations financially, you can celebrate Jewish values this month – or any time! – and do a good deed however you can, even if it’s holding the door for someone, offering someone a smile on a rough day or helping someone bring their groceries inside.