The tradition of tzedakah – variously interpreted as righteousness or charitable giving – is as old as Judaism itself. It emphasizes both an individual obligation to help those in need and a communal responsibility to provide assistance in a systematic and organized way.

What distinguishes tzedakah is an absolute sense of obligation. It shares the same root as Tzedec, the Hebrew word for justice. It is a must, not a should. It is a command, not a consideration. Tzedakah is also dedicated to serving the world-at-large, non Jews as well as Jews. The need to “repair a broken world” (Tikun Olam), is deep in our values and norms.

In the modern era, a tzedakah box can still be found in many Jewish homes, symbolizing a family’s philanthropic commitment to repairing the world (tikkun olam). And it’s still customary to celebrate a simchah, or happy event-be it a birth, bar or bat mitzvah, wedding or Jewish holiday – with a charitable gift.

Transitions and tensions in contemporary Jewish philanthropy

While the overall economic and political success of the North American Jewish community means that many individuals have much more to give, the environment of giving has become more complicated in the past few decades. The collapse of barriers that once discouraged Jewish participation in secular organizations means that giving is no longer directed primarily to causes within the Jewish community. At the same time, the tradition of self-help and the desire to maintain institutions and agencies that will sustain and enrich our distinctive Jewish identity require an increasing commitment of financial resources. Finally, greater needs within the Jewish community are in tension with trends to privatization of allocations and grant-making. In the face of new federal tax incentives and increased donor desires to direct their giving, many families are establishing private foundations, restricted endowments and philanthropic funds that allow them to have a greater say in their giving.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Calgary responds to these trends by offering donors maximum flexibility in directing their gifts as well as in the types of assets they can use to create funds. We serve donors with varied interests at various levels of charitable giving. Recognizing our donor’s desire for greater involvement, we can help develop grants in areas of personal interest as well as in areas of identified community need. Through the JCFC, donors can take the long view, ensuring continued support for the causes they value.