Charity Donation Boxes
By Elliot H. Gertel
There is a long-established Jewish tradition and מִצְוָה, mitsvah, commandment, of giving charity to help the needy. For צְדָקָה, tsedakah is not simply the Hebrew word for charity. The deeper and truer meaning of tsedakah is justice. To give charity to those in need—whether it be food, clothing, other necessities, or money—is not merely a good deed, it is the just thing, the righteous thing, to do, the right of the needy and the obligation of the donor. Although one is obliged to do so, one must give freely, openly, generously, and willingly.
The sage Maimonides defined eight levels of giving tsedakah. To donate anonymously where neither the benefactor nor the beneficiary are aware of one another—with neither the donor seeking recognition nor making the recipient feel shame—is giving tsedakah on a very high plane. Providing the poor with the means for a livelihood is the highest level of all, for when one makes it possible for a person to make a living, the beneficiary of such tsedakah is no longer in need of handouts from those better off. In addition, the recipient of such aid is able to “pay back” the benefactor by helping others in need by giving tsedakah to them.
פּוּשׁקֶעס, pushkes, Yiddish for charity donation boxes, may go back to the Middle Ages when such boxes for alms-giving were passed through homes and synagogues. By the 20th century, pushkes for every type of charitable organization could be found in houses, shops, synagogues, schools, offices, and a variety of institutions. Organizations that produced and continue to distribute the boxes and solicited donations in them include relief agencies, benevolent associations, children’s aid societies, yeshivas or Jewish religious academies, synagogues, women’s organizations, hospitals, health clinics, emergency medical aid associations, blood banks, old age homes, schools, orphanages, burial societies, research institutes, Zionist organizations, a variety of religious institutions, agricultural and land acquisition societies, and many for general purposes to be decided by the owner of the boxes. In this exhibit, you will see a wide range of such organizations represented with a number of different shapes and materials in addition to the typical rectilinear metal pushkes.
The most widely distributed and certainly best-known pushkes are the “blue boxes” of קֶרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, Keren Kayemet Le-Israel or the Jewish National Fund (JNF). JNF was founded in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, with the purpose of buying land for a Jewish state in Palestine and developing agriculture and forests in pre- and post-state Israel. Here you will see several “blue boxes” ranging from pre-state to the early 21st century.
All items donated by Constance Harris and on loan from the Jewish Heritage Collection Dedicated to Mark and Dave Harris, Special Collections Library, University Library, The University of Michigan, except where otherwise noted.
Thanks and appreciation to Deborah Dash Moore, Director, Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies; Arielle Sokol, Karmen Beecroft, Anne Elias, Martha O’Hara Conway, and Athena Jackson of the University Library; Stacy Eckert and Cheri Thompson, Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies; and Sarah Garibova, graduate student in Judaic studies; for their support and assistance.
*156b, Tractate Shabes, Babylonian Talmud
The Pushke Collection was digitized by the UM3D Lab using the process of Photogrammetry. In this process, several high fidelity digital photographs are captured 360 degrees around the subject. These photos are analyzed by a computer algorithm to identify matching features on a per-pixel basis between photographs. These identified features are then used to triangulate a position within 3D space, allowing a 3D model of the object to be generated. The color information from the initial photographs is then mapped to the surface of the object in order to achieve a realistic digital replica. Select pieces of the Pushke collection have been further refined to correct imperfections resulting from the capturing process by an artist using digital sculpting and painting software, with the entire digital collection also being optimized for more efficient viewing on the web.