When you are in New York and you see Spiderman, Mickey Mouse and Shrek coming down Broadway you know it is Thanksgiving, which means the shopping season has begun.
It used to be that Thanksgiving opened the season of giving. Now it opens up the season of buying. Black Friday and Cyber Monday now define this time of the year. It is of course wonderful to give and receive gifts to and from friends and relatives. We should be happy as Americans to see consumerism strong in a time where our economy is so challenged. Nonetheless, something is being lost in the shuffle. For this reason we at 92Y have come up with a new special day, Giving Tuesday, November 27th. The idea of Giving Tuesday is to encourage individuals, corporations and organizations to focus on giving around this time of year. Giving whatever your can, financial donations or volunteering your time.
Giving Tuesday brings Thanksgiving back to its original roots. The Pilgrims based Thanksgiving on the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:33-44). Sukkot is a Jewish harvest festival. The idea of the holiday is to give thanks for a successful agricultural season. The Pilgrims read about Sukkot in the Bible and they felt that it related to their experience of trying to farm and establish a new home for themselves in the America.
Sukkot and by extension Thanksgiving has within it two messages:
1. Giving thanks for what we have.
2. That giving thanks for what we have should raise our conscience to understand that there are many people who have not been blessed with what we have and therefore we have a responsibility to help these people.
Thus, Giving Tuesday is way to bring the true message of Thanksgiving back to this holiday.
With that let me make some suggestions about how to create a meaningful Giving Tuesday experience. In preparation for Giving Tuesday, when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday evening, before the Turkey and Cranberry sauce come out, go around the table and have everyone lift their glass and give thanks for something in their life, young and old alike, everyone has something to be thankful for.
Once everyone has given thanks, go around the table a second time. This time everyone will name one thing they can do to help someone on Giving Tuesday. Once again, include everyone in this ritual. No one is too young or too old to help another person.
Here are some suggestions of things you can do on Giving Tuesday:
1. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or food pantry.
2. Help clean up a park or any place that needs some sprucing up.
3. If you live in or nearby an area that was affected by Hurricane Sandy or some other recent disaster participate in the relief effort.
4. Hospitals, rehab centers and senior facilities can always use your help.
5. Donate some blood.
6. There are many organizations doing wonderful work that could use your financial help or your time.
There is no end to the lists of kind acts we can come up with for Giving Tuesday. There is so much that is needed in this world. Find the volunteer or charitable experience that is right for you. Perhaps take on a project together with a friend, life partner or with your children on Giving Tuesday.
By each of us volunteering and engaging in philanthropy on Giving Tuesday, we will not only help another person, but we will change ourselves. We will make ourselves more caring and soulful people. This kind of transformation can truly have a ripple effect. In other words, by improving the lives of those we help and impacting our lives by helping, we can truly transform the world. This is the meaning of the central Jewish goal of Tikkun Olam, to repair this very broken world.
May all of you be blessed with a meaningful Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday and a peaceful holiday season.
Rabbi David Kalb is the Director of Jewish Education for the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at 92nd Street Y. At 92Y Rabbi Kalb directs and teaches a variety of different learning programs for a range of ages. He also serves as a spiritual resource to the entire professional staff and lay leadership of 92Y.