When our son, Jacob, was old enough to walk through the grocery store aisles, we began a new family giving tradition. Each week, Jacob would select a healthy food item, place it carefully in the cart, and upon returning home, he would carry it into our pantry where we stowed our ‘charity box.’  As the months passed, the charity box became filled with canned tuna, pasta, and other non-perishable items that we eventually donated to our local food pantry. Over time, our charity box transformed to a container filled with outgrown clothing, books, and ultimately baby toys. When Jacob tired of his younger brother infringing on his space, he inquired, “When will we be donating my younger brother to someone that wants him?” Although notably misguided, the gift of giving was becoming a significant part of Jacob’s early learning experiences.

Actively involving children in the process of performing mitzvot is a very important value to me as both a mother and as a teacher. Fortunately, this value is celebrated and taught in the classrooms, hallways, and daily experiences here at HDS and within our greater community. The lower elementary classes are currently embarking on a service learning project where students are performing mitzvot through integrated and authentic learning experiences.

Our service learning began with lessons focusing on healthy minds, hearts, and bodies. Guest speakers, yoga, mindfulness, cooking, singing, dancing, art, mitzvot, field trips, and exercising were all critical parts of our service learning studies.

During t’fillot, our Gan students focused on mitzvot that we can perform with different parts of our bodies.  Our first area of study highlighted using our hands and it fit seamlessly into our cooking unit. Wearing brightly colored chef hats, our students kneaded dough, braided challah, sliced fruit, and prepared lasagna. These tasty items were then packaged in recycled food storage containers and donated to 40 participants in the Meals on Wheels Program in Ypsilanti. The lower el students decorated cards to accompany the food deliveries to “add love and sunshine” to the packages.

To help fund this cooking initiative, we wrote numerous grants and requests to seek support from local businesses. A generous donation from Kroger’s grocery store supplied the ingredients for our challah and dairy products. The Produce Station donated fresh fruit for our students to make a delicious and colorful fruit salad. Busch’s Food Market donated ingredients for the students to bake lasagna and BGreenToday.com contributed all of the packaging materials. Surplus funds were used to purchase healthy snacks for school-age students at a nearby elementary school and leftover fruit was donated to the Eastern Michigan food pantry. Our service learning initiative thus provided nourishment to children, college-age students, and adults.

While prepping the fruit salad, the Gansters practiced Hebrew vocabulary words and sang songs of mitzvot.  Their enthusiasm further cemented the beauty of this integrated and authentic learning opportunity. Our students learned the appropriate blessings spoken for each food they prepared, as well as the importance of expressing gratitude for the generous donations we received.  The youngsters’ hands did the work of kneading, slicing, cooking, and coloring; while their hearts reaped the benefits from the mitzvah of giving.