Tikkun Olam

Even though we’re little, we can do a lot

In Short

In retrospect, the entire day came together in a very short amount of time. The direct beneficiaries from our efforts, the people of Ukraine, were not the only ones who gained something. Our early childhood center students gained an appreciation and understanding of our core Jewish values.

There is a song we sing in our preschool with the lyrics, “Even though we’re little, we can do a lot…we can help to change the world from this very spot!” Now, more than ever, I hear this song in my head as I reflect on the news I read every morning, reporting from across the world in Ukraine. The stories and posts on social media paint a harrowing picture of two countries at war, leaving a trail of death and destruction as the days march on, with no end in sight. Here at our little school in Long Island, New York, our community is one where we come together to support one another in times of need. The foundation of our kehillah kedosha is a commitment to each other – no matter what. Over the past two years, we have not only survived, but thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that January’s Omicron surge is behind us, and we are working our way back to gathering again safely, our thoughts and hearts turn to Ukraine. 

As a Jewish preschool director, I often contemplate how to best teach children the importance of our core values such as tikkun olam (taking care of the world), chaverut (friendship), and tzedakah (giving). In the news and in our community, I see so many organizations looking to help the people of Ukraine – from medical supplies, to clothing to food – it’s hard to know what is needed most, and how best to help. In order to do something, and also to make it meaningful for our preschoolers, we went back to basics – Shabbat. On Shabbat each week, our students bring in tzedakah that is typically set aside until the end of the year, when the children collectively decide where they would like to donate it. In an effort to act immediately and meaningfully, we decided to devote a recent Shabbat tzedakah collection to be sent to Ukraine. 

To add some ruach (spirit/breath) to the day, we invited students and staff to wear blue and yellow in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Colors are a topic we teach even our littlest learners in the school. The colors blue and yellow can be found in the rainbow, are a part of the primary color series, and when mixed together make green. Children of all ages can connect to colors because we talk about them all the time, and they can be found all around us. In asking the children to wear blue and yellow, while simultaneously showing them the flag of Ukraine, we were able to open up a conversation, in a developmentally appropriate way, about the war, the country and its people who need our help. 

Using photographs, books and videos, we found ways to talk to our preschoolers about the war.  We talked about how sometimes countries fight. We also talked about how the people in Ukraine are helping each other stay safe, just like everyone in our school is kept safe by our security guards and our staff. Lastly, we reminded the children that by wearing blue and yellow, and giving tzedakah, they are able to help in a practical and concrete way – “even though they’re little.  They ARE doing a lot!”

With only two days until Shabbat, we mobilized our community with a call to action – dress in blue and yellow and get ready to give. In my head, I heard the words of the song on repeat in my head. We promoted our Blue & Yellow Shabbat on social media, over email, and with the hashtag, #westandwithukraine. 

On Friday, March 4th, the sun was shining bright as our preschool children made their way to school donning their blue and yellow. As parents pulled up to drop off in front of the school building, dollar bills and change were dropped from outstretched hands into our tzedakah jar. The children, and their parents, were helping to do their part to change the world “from this very spot.” 

The Jewish value of tikkun olam is about improving the world. We impart on the children that no action is too small or too insignificant. Our Blue & Yellow Shabbat helped to highlight this for our preschoolers. The pride on the faces of the children as they did their part in giving tzedakah was evident.  The pride I felt on behalf of my community brought me to tears. I truly believe the children understood what it means to do their part in chaverut

With each coin and bill placed in our collection bucket, our community grew closer. Collectively we taught our preschoolers that Friday the truest meaning of Judaism in action. Because it was Shabbat, everything felt magnified throughout the school day. As we said our Shabbat blessings, the children held hands and sang loud and proud. The school hallways were a sea of blue and yellow all day long. At the end of the day, as parents came for pick-up, they sought out our tzedakah bucket once again, with outstretched hands and even more to give. Whenever someone, student or grown-up, placed a donation in the bucket, the children said, toda raba

In retrospect, the entire day came together in a very short amount of time. The direct beneficiaries from our efforts, the people of Ukraine, were not the only ones who gained something. Our early childhood center students gained an appreciation and understanding of our core Jewish values. Our kehillah, our sacred community, which included parents, teachers and staff, also benefitted from participating in our event.

The grand total from one day of tzedakah collection came to $616.50. The money has since been donated to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. At the end of an emotional and pride-filled day, little hands and little hearts did their part in the name of shalom, in the name of peace for all people – here and in Ukraine. #westandwithukraine

Jen Schiffer has been an educator in Jewish early childhood education for over ten years, teaching in Queens and Long Island.  She is passionate about engaging young families in her community by providing meaningful Jewish curriculum in her early childhood education program.