Inferno by Dr. Steven Hatch

This book is the reason I finally caved and downloaded an app for ebooks, betraying all the wonderfully dusty-smelling pages of the tangible (albeit tree-killing) books that I love. Initially, it was kind of a random cover on the shelf at the library that caught my attention a while back. I went ahead and rented it, but with two little boys, carrying around a paperback book can be dangerous, so I didn’t get even close to finishing before it was due for return. But it had caught my interest.

So yeah, I rented the ebook version instead. And I’m glad I did.

“The University of Liberia was due to close because of an Ebola outbreak. But students protested and were meet with officers in full riot gear. I was one of the only American journalists there, an officer met my camera’s gaze.” Photo and quote by Monica Melton on Unsplash

In the book “Inferno” Dr. Steven Hatch takes readers with him on his very real medical mission assisting in the heat of the Ebola crisis. He describes the complex web of racism, world politics and a medicine culture that led to one of the most alarming modern outbreaks of a deadly disease.

Most of us in the developed world don’t pause to think how amazing it is that we drink water from a tap and never once worry about dying forty-eight hours later from cholera. Spending some time in Liberia might help to reveal just how truly amazing that really is. In a two week tour, I saw examples of how the lack of such wonders as running water, the ability to summon light at any moment of a twenty-four hour cycle, and cheap and efficient transportation all led to people worrying about dying from any number of maladies, even including cholera. Liberia’s rudimentary infrastructure underscored how these normally invisible advances that make life so livable elsewhere are crucial to the chances that you’ll live to see thirty.

“Inferno”, Steven Hatch

I loved so many parts of this book, but one thing that killed me at the beginning were the “go figure” and “the logical place to start” statements, because, as I told my husband, I was CLUELESS about the ebola outbreak. I think I had even forgotten that it had started in Liberia, only remembering that it had in fact happened somewhere. I couldn’t decide if I thought he was stuck up, if I was really in need of a history lesson, or if he was just writing to a very different and more activist-type audience than, well…me. I’m going to say the latter, but still haven’t entirely ruled out the other possibilities. After the first few chapters of the book, I felt like he had laid a sound enough historical background for me to understand where he was coming from.

Aside from that, I thought that this book was so well written and I felt that the author stuck to his word and tried to be as fair and unbiased towards the people and culture as possible, sharing what he saw without too many assumptions. I respected that a lot and was astonished at some of the events he described. It’s a great read, especially for those interested in medicine and activism.

The Beekeeper

January now officially kicks each new year off with National Human Trafficking Awareness Month! And as such, it seems like appropriate a time as ever to catch up on some book reviews, namely “The Beekeeper”.

Photo by Akira Hojo on Unsplash

This book is a true story, and one filled with true horrors. With that being said, I want to share a quote from a book called “Slave Stealers” by Tim Ballard before getting into this.

“Do you have children, Tim?”

“Yes,” I responded, my eyes matching the intensity I was reading in his.

“Then let me ask you something….” He hesitated. He must have known the question was somewhat cruel. But he went forward with it anyway.

“Could you get in bed and sleep at night, knowing that one of your children’s beds was empty?”I knew the answer was no, but I couldn’t get the word out, as instant tears and emotion blocked my ability to vocalize. I just shook my head.

“Slave Stealers”, pg 56, Tim Ballard

Books like this can be hard to digest, but Tim Ballard argues that if we don’t learn how to make it personal- imagining our own children and recognizing that the victims are real children of other heartbroken parents – and act as if our own families and loved ones were on the line, then this criminal market will never end. So in the parts when your heart and tear ducts start to swell at the same rate, and you think you’d rather just not finish, consider for a minute why you feel that way and what you can do. It might just be a defining moment in the start to someone’s rescue.

“The Beekeeper” is based on true stories from Abdullah Shrem, a beekeeper working to help liberate Yazidi women kidnapped by Daesh (aka ISIS), who through many means and people escape. He tells their stories in hopes of bringing light to the problem and to “rally the troops,” so to speak, against ISIS.

But for all the horrors, this book is very interestingly written, leaving no words to the author alone, but always quoting verbatim the conversations she had with the beekeeper and others involved in the rescues or being rescued.

If you’d like to learn more about the author and Abdullah Shrem (the beekeeper), then you can also check out this PBS News Hour Report and interview with her!

Fun Facts All About Africa for Kids and Families

Before the holiday season crept up, I was discussing Kwanzaa with one of my VIPKID students. I realized that she knew wayyyy more about Kwanzaa than I did, so I started studying. Kwanzaa, Africa, African-American history, the whole big black hole. So. In this post, I’m going to try to tie in Kwanzaa with some fun facts about Africa!

Did you know that every December all across the USA African-Americans celebrate a holiday called Kwanzaa? When Dr Maulana Karenga began researching traditions to bring African-Americans together, he looked to their common African ancestors’ for inspiration and learned all about them. He drew from many different African “firstfruits” traditions to institute a beautiful holiday in the US. Kwanzaa is now celebrated every year from December 26th – January 1st.

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

To celebrate Kwanzaa this year, you can also learn more about Africa, it’s people’s traditions, and the sacrifices African-Americans have endured throughout the history of the USA. To kickstart this educational celebration of Kwanzaa (which is especially the way I recommend you do it if you are not African-American), let’s learn some fast facts about Africa.

Questions answered in this post, and types of attached resources:

  1. How many countries are in Africa? (fast facts)
  2. What is the biggest city in Africa? (pictures)
  3. What is the highest point in Africa? (video)
  4. How long have people lived in Africa? (research)
  5. Where are the most animals found in Africa? (AWF website)
  6. Where is the driest place in Africa? (video)
  7. What is the largest river in Africa? (video)
  8. How many languages are spoken in Africa? (children’s series)

There is something for every age group here, and to add more fun to talking about this with your children, I have created some fun Kwanzaa activities, including one Spin the Wheel questionnaire that gives very simple answers to the 8 questions above. You might consider spinning the wheel and then finding more info right here on this post! Just click the green image below to get your copy of the accompanying activities!

How many countries are in Africa?

54! Although Somaliland and Western Sahara might try to tell you there should be 56, the UN only officially recognizes 54 countries in Africa. Somaliland and Western Sahara’s independence are currently under dispute.

Another word to describe an independent country is “sovereign”. The process to become a sovereign nation is a little fuzzy, but it ends with recognition from the UN. The newest country in the world at the moment is South Sudan, which succeeded from Sudan in 2011. Pretty interesting, huh?

Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash
Can you spy Sudan on this globe?

What is the biggest city in Africa?

Lagos, Nigeria is Africa’s largest city with a population of over 21 million people, and a size of 452 square miles. Lagos used to be the capital of Nigeria, but still is a hub for government agencies. Nigeria itself is a developing country, which you can see in the contrast between high-rise buildings and the suburban slums.

What is the highest point in Africa?

The country of Tanzania houses a nice hike of 19,340 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level to the very peak of Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest point in all of Africa. This doesn’t automatically make it one of the biggest mountains in the world though. Turns out there are ridiculous number of ways to classify the size and height of a mountain. However, it is safe to say that Mount Kilimanjaro is the largest non-shield volcano, and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world!

As you can probably guess, it’s a popular place for climbers looking for a challenge. The process to climb a mountain like this is just insane to me, but who doesn’t love to try something a little crazy every now and again? Check out this guy’s climb up Kilimanjaro and all the neat facts about it that he shares:

How long have people lived in Africa?

The short answer is….drumroll…. probably 200,000 years!

The longer answer though, National Geographic says best:

Our species is an African one: Africa is where we first evolved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The earliest fossils of recognizably modern Homo sapiens appear in the fossil record at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, around 200,000 years ago.

Genographic Project/Map of Human Migration

Whenever I read these numbers about evidence of humans found 200,000 years ago, or whatever other 6-digit number, all I can think is “HOW DO YOU KNOW?! SHOW ME YOUR FOSSIL!” It just blows my mind. So if you’re like me, The Atlantic science journal shares a little about more recent fossils found in a cave called Jebel Irhoud, about 65 miles out of Marrakesh, with links to some of the details and studies released:

They mark the earliest fossilized remains of Homo sapiens ever found. Until now, that honor belonged to two Ethiopian fossils that are 160,000 and 195,000 years old respectively. But the Jebel Irhoud bones, and the stone tools that were uncovered with them, are far older—around 315,000 years old, with a possible range of 280,000 to 350,000 years.

Scientists Have Found the Oldest Known Human Fossils
Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash

Where are the most African animals found?

South Africa has been labeled a “megadiverse” country, meaning that it is one of the few countries with a majority of our planets animal species. In this case, South Africa houses a majority of the world’s mammals. AWF is an organization that works to protect and study these animals and has a truly awesome website for animal lovers to learn about African animals and get involved. You can search animals by categories- like how endangered they are- or search by country. If you look up South Africa on their website ( you’ll be shown a map with South Africa’s location and learn some facts like:

  • South Africa is home to the largest population of rhinos on the continent, but poachers are hunting them into extinction. The site then gives ideas for how the poachers can be stopped.
  • Some of the native wildlife includes: blue crane, cape buffalo, elephant, lion, rhinoceros, leopard, kudu, cheetah, ostrich, black mamba, and the riverine rabbit (which is endangered!)
  • If you visit, you might like to see the popular landmarks, such as: Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park, Cape Floral Kingdom, The Vredefort Dome and Kruger National Park

You can also search all the neat animal bios here

Photo by Kevin Folk on Unsplash

Where is the driest place in Africa?

The Sahara Desert is the driest region of Africa, covering about 3.6 million square miles. And if you take an even closer look, you’ll find in the middle of this desert Al-Kufra, or just Kufra. It’s about 30 square miles of land that can see a full year pass without any rain. And people still live there! You might be surprised to know that the driest place in Africa is also home to the largest man-made river. Traditionally, people in the Sahara desert have gathered their water from springs and oases. But the past couple of decades has brought more irrigated water closer to them. Tons of water now runs under the sand between the scarce towns and villages of the Kufra district. “The Great Man-made River”/ Al-Kufra Water Project is one of the biggest construction projects ever. It’s really pretty remarkable!

I like that this video isn’t so focused on the federal policies and income, but on how the water is affecting specific individuals and families. What a great report!

What is the largest river in Africa?

At 4,132 miles (6,650 kilometers) long, the Nile river is not only the longest river in Africa, but arguably in the world! Now, you may be wondering, how can you argue over its length? Is or isn’t it the longest? Turns out, scientists can actually have a really difficult time deciding where the head and origin of a river actually is. So you may see some reports of the Nile saying it is 6,650km long, while others state that it is closer to 6,690! It depends on where you think the river starts and stops running. The Amazon comes in close as far as world rivers are concerned.

Since the Nile has always been such an important part of Egyptian civilization (as well as the culture of the 10 other modern countries the Nile flows through), Egyptians have a special celebration called “Wafaa Al Nil”. Today this celebration of the Nile is held each August with family-friendly games, concerts, poetry contests and so on.

How many languages are spoken in Africa?

It’s hard to get an exact count, but somewhere around 1500-2000 languages are spoken across the African continent! Say Whaaaat?? The most common of those languages is Swahili, followed by a number of languages I’d not heard of, but with Zulu at number 7. (My grandma used to have a disc of nursery rhymes that included one about Zulu warriors. Also, the intro to The Lion King is in Zulu.)

This particular episode is in English, but some of them are in Swahili and are such fun introductions to different aspects of
African history and culture for young children! Isn’t it cute?!

Again, don’t forget to check out these fun activities during Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) by just clicking on the picture below!

The Best Children’s Books for the Whole Family to Learn About the Termination Policy

If you haven’t read my post “How To Approach Thanksgiving Without the False Narrative”, it may help establish more of a stage for this. Plus, it is packed with links to great resources.

Basically though, Native Americans were never respected and continue to experience pains inflicted by a government that has taken their lands and relocated so many of them. To allow the “Thanksgiving story” to plant an idea that all was well after feasting with the pilgrims and making truces is harmful to future relationships between the government and indigenous people.

What is the Termination Policy?

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction were turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.


No amount of statistics or historical text can make you understand what any of that means though. I don’t claim to get it. But if you want to really feel what that termination policy did to people, you’ll have to turn to children’s books.

Where can I find a list of reliable book sources?

Dr Deb Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) gives great recommendations from her personal (she is tribally enrolled at Nambe Owingeh) and professional (with a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction she has reviewed and written many educational books) perspective. Here are a few of them. The first of which, she co-wrote:

And remember to always consider who the author is, and how they are representing the characters. Is the author a Native American or a Caucasian writing about this policy? Are the characters themselves mostly Native American or Caucasian, and why is their perspective important? How might the character’s perspective be skewed (is this character meeting the situation with anger, understanding, resentment, naiveness, etc)?

Is it really so offensive to play “Pilgrims and Indians”?

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I remember sitting in a social studies class in eighth grade. The teacher also happened to be my basketball coach, and was just a super likable guy.

Each student was assigned a portion of US history to report on and presentation days had come for better or worse, depending on how well prepared we all were. I remember so many useless details about that class, and can imagine still things like where my friend Holly sat.

It came time for someone to present about the Mormon Trail, or maybe the Gold Rush, or just general moving West. We’ll call the presenter Darryl. When Darryl got up with his presentation board, and I saw the Salt Lake Temple, images of polygamy, and the term “Mormons”, I remember wanting to just take it away before he even got started. I mean, how could he possibly present that all in a good light when he didn’t even use the name of the church? And if he had tried to research and understand it, he definitely would have asked me or Holly. I was good enough friends with him after all.

It was also the first time in my life when I hated the word “Mormon” being used to label me. It sounded awful in that context with false information being (intentionally or not) spewed, and I realized that’s precisely how the name came about in the first place – it wasn’t exactly meant as a compliment or just an easy nickname originally.

But this story gets better. Because when Darryl seemed about to jump headfirst into discussing polygamy (which in no way could have really been a part of the public school’s curriculum, right?) our teacher thankfully cut him off.

And turned it over to me. Asking if I’d like to clarify anything.

It’s a moment so awkward and embarrassing I can’t even remember what I said. I just felt like everyone was going to take away his side of the presentation and not mine. But it was my history more than anyone else’s in the room that he was sharing. And he was butchering it, if not also mocking it! He was literally telling the story and experiences of my great-great-however many great- grandparents! My family still gets together and tells those stories from journals. Because it’s our inheritance to have that history. And at 13 years old, I had my very first, and one of very few experiences in my whole life where I felt the need to directly correct someone trying to tell me my own story. I’m blessed not to have my calendar annually marked with a day when I know I will have to decide how to face that.

So do I think presenting groups of people with historical accuracy is important?

Absolutely, I do!

There are so many problems that come from rationalizing why we still share something as U.S. history that has questionable truth to it at best.

I want to share a question that came to my mind this week that hit me hard:

If the story were reversed and the pilgrims had been killed and dying at the hands of Native Americans, would we sugarcoat the story for our kids and tell them a fluffy story about the singular time when the Wampanoag partied with us? Or would we tell them the age-appropriate version of “our ancestors were murdered and exposed to a lot of really bad diseases they had no medicine for. But the Native Americans didn’t listen to us or respect us, because they were just thinking about getting land for themselves. So now we live in this area they’ve assigned us if we want to keep a few of our own rules and practices. Or we can go live with them and follow their rules.”

I feel like its an honest excuse that comes to mind so easily – that’s too violent to explain to my child. But what about WWII? If a book or movie about WWII were picked up by my kids of any age, I would not hesitate for a second to explain that Hitler was a very charismatic man, and a lot of people believed that he was making a better country for them, but he was really doing terrible things that killed tons of people. One moral of the story is to always choose a leader who doesn’t hurt people.

The same should be done here. We shouldn’t hesitate to say that the pilgrims believed that they deserved the new land, but they didn’t stop to think about the people who had taken care of that land first, which resulted in a lot of blood on their hands and the loss of so many great cultures, languages and people. One moral of this story is to recognize that we can’t take back all the wrong things we’ve done by doing one thing right.

Do either of those sound so hard to say to a child? How else might you say it? Submit a comment with how you will describe Native American and U.S. relations to a child more accurately this Thanksgiving, and I’d love to hear how they receive it!

Do Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, or what do they think of it?

I’m glad you asked, because CUT has your answer! If you haven’t read “How to Approach Thanksgiving Without a False Narrative“, then check it out by clicking the yellow image below and watch this video for a better understanding of how different people might feel towards Thanksgiving, and how we can keep it from being a day of celebrating misinformation.

How To Approach Thanksgiving Without a False Narrative

I’ve been seeing a ton of these adorable little activities popping up right on schedule for this time of year. Pilgrims and Indians and all kinds of versions of “Little House on the Prairie” are up for sale by different creators.

And for the first time ever, I’m cringing every time I see it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. I’m just not buying that pilgrim story any more. And it’s not really a story I want to teach my kids.

Photo by Rob Fallows from FreeImages

I love eating huge amounts of everything drenched in cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. And cranberry sauce with my green bean casserole. And my green bean casserole with the turkey. It’s just a lawless mess of fine cuisine on my Thanksgiving plate.

I am filled with purpose, spending the month making sure I’ve told people why I’m grateful for them. I adore hearing children list things they are grateful for (big trucks, Wal-Mart, and our dog are at the top of my two year old’s list).

And we can’t forget pumpkin and cinnamon flavored everything. (Currently, we are burning an apple- pumpkin scent in our kitchen that is my new favorite. It’s heavenly.)

So, what’s so cringeworthy about Thanksgiving?

I don’t think anyone has a real reason to be upset about the things listed just above. And for most people, that’s all they think about at Thanksgiving – fooood, glorious food! Alone, the Hallmarkization of Thanksgiving is lovely.

But the problem, of course, is the origins of the holiday and the fact that some people STILL are telling their children that we celebrate Thanksgiving to remember how the pilgrims and Native Americans came together on that day so long ago to feast and live happily ever after together.

Sean Sherman says in a New York Times article:

 The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1637, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory. 

The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday
Photo by bromundt from FreeImages

And you know, I read that article a while ago, but as soon as I copied that into this post I thought but wait, wasn’t the whole Thanksgiving story that they hunted and feasted TOGETHER, and the pilgrims survived because of Squanto (and others’) help? What massacre is he talking about? I mean, I know they had a dark history, which is a problem, but how closely did these two events happen? So I spent the past 40 minutes on the internet trying to search for an explanation. gives us a nice three paragraphs, confirming that a massacre of “some 500 Indian women, men, and children” did happen just a few months before that first Thanksgiving story, followed by more such massacres. The Peqout Wars were a huge stain in American history I’d never even heard of, and it doesn’t seem to be especially well recorded. And they were going on right alongside this particular harvest and Thanksgiving, like Sherman said.

But, of course, the tribe being massacred was not the same tribe at the thanksgiving feast. The tribe at the feast was the Wampanoag, and they may have been there in an attempt at politics having seen what other tribes were experiencing.

The Smithsonian Magazine paints another short (a whole 8 paragraphs) picture of the Wampanoag situation leading up to the thanksgiving:

Long before the arrival of the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag held frequent Thanksgiving-like celebrations, giving thanks in the form of feasts and ceremonial games…

For a moment of history, the interests of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag aligned. When the Pilgrims landed in New England, after failing to make their way to the milder mouth of the Hudson, they had little food and no knowledge of the new land. The Wampanoag suggested a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the Pilgrims would exchange European weaponry for Wampanoag for food.

Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

So this Thanksgiving may not have really been as big of a deal as we make it. In fact, it certainly wasn’t. really comes in next with the Thanksgiving fun gun, breaking down the facts of what we actually have evidence of from the “first Thanksgiving”, like:

Photo by Jonathan Kendrick from FreeImages
  • As mentioned above, “thanksgivings” were common practice, and we don’t have any clue why this one is remembered as “THE first Thanksgiving”
  • We can’t actually prove that the Wampanoag people were invited at all. It may have been unplanned for the Native Americans to join in the festivities.
  • Was there Turkey? There’s no written record of it.
  • It’s possible that New Englanders were just trying to make themselves look good after the fact by talking up this feast.

But this wasn’t the beginning of a fluffy new friendship. It was again “just a moment in history.” Even when the settlers and Native Americans weren’t at war, the diseases brought from Europe were still wiping out whole peoples.

When Europeans started trekking through Indian towns, they brought sickness with them. Indians died at an alarming rate, making it substantially easier for colonists to overpower entire villages—well, what was left of them. 

The Pilgrims already believed they were part of God’s plan. Finding empty villages as 90 percent—yes, 90 percent—of America’s Indians perished in front of them only furthered Europeans’ sense of their destiny, influencing them to continue the colonization westward.

Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

And with continued colonization came continued wars and conflicts. The conflicts evolved in nature with time, but still they persisted. Through the Civil War when many tribes took sides to fight, and the life-saving Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, clear until 1953, Native Americans struggled to protect land, resources and culture. But a survey in 1943 led to a decision by the U.S. government to terminate a huge number of Native American tribes, expecting them to relinquish their tribal lands and affiliation. For many, this meant being removed from the land and put into “boarding schools”.

According to a Partnership With Native Americans:

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction were turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.


How do we change the narrative when the history of a holiday…well, sucks?

I’m gonna go back to Sean Sherman for this one, and recommend you find and read his whole article, really. He says:

The thing is, we do not need the poisonous “pilgrims and Indians” narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.

People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.

The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday

That, Sean Sherman, I can do. I can embrace the food.

For example, succotash. If I say “succotash” what’s the first thing you think of?

Sylvester, right?

Image result for succotash meme

I just learned that it is actually a Native American dish made of corn, lima beans, and a variety of any other vegetables laying around! And I can totally get on board with that kind of recipe. So maybe instead of painting false pictures of peaceful historical relations, we can instead bond with our children in the kitchen making succotash. Talk about how maize is grown and what it must have been like to live off the land. Educate them (and yourself) about rain dances and drought and how these things made Native Americans into more prayerful, thankful, and resourceful people. Talk about protecting people’s homes and rights and not letting history repeat itself. There’s no place like a feast to get in a big, long conversation like that anyway!

Click below for one succotash recipe from All Recipes with a more modern twist, and let me know if you try it!

All About Jewish Tzedakah Boxes

If you aren’t subscribing to the PJLibrary for free books yet, then here’s my unsponsored plug: GO DO IT. I seriously can’t say enough good things about PJLibrary.

Usually you get a free book in the mail every month as a subscriber, and sometimes you get little activities and CDs. This month they sent everyone these ADORABLE tzedakah boxes! Let me tell you what I’ve learned about them.


In Hebrew “צדקה” means “justice” or “righteousness”. It also puts a heavy amount of importance on charity. Interesting how those things all go together, right?


Another word that you might commonly see associated with tzedekah is “mitzvah”, which is the Hebrew term for commandments and other good deeds as required by Jewish law or doctrine. So what is a “bar mitzvah”? Its a religious ceremony in which a boy becomes a man by covenanting to keep the commandments, or become a son of the commandments. Who knew!? (Well, a lot of people, probably. But I didn’t!)


One more word for you – “Tanakh”, or the whole collection of Hebrew scripture, similar to, but not exactly the same, as the Old Testament. It is comprised of :

  1. the Torah (or the first five books of OT from Moses), which people often mistakenly use to name any Hebrew scripture in general. This is certainly the one name I’m most familiar with.
  2. the Nevi’im, or the Prophets

What does the Tanakh teach about the tzedakah mitzvah?

Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

Usually in the Tanakh, “tzedekah” refers to displays of justice, such as this Jewish law laid out in Duetoronomy:

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of the LORD. You may dun the foreigner; but you must remit whatever is due you from your kinsmen. There shall be no needy among you—since the LORD your God will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion— if only you heed the LORD your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you: you will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself; you will dominate many nations, but they will not dominate you. If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. 

-Deuteronomy 15

But, the first rule of the Hebrew written language is to not use vowels. Which makes this next verse in Daniel 4:24 interesting, because the consonants are the same (tz-d-k) but the word here is “tzidak” and is one of few places where the Tanakh focuses on charity to the poor.

Therefore, O king, may my advice be acceptable to you: Redeem your sins by beneficence and your iniquities by generosity to the poor; then your serenity may be extended.

Daniel 4:24

Enter the Tzedakah Box

I would think that anywhere in the world you go, people (especially children) stash their cash and coins in piggy banks, jars and boxes of every shape and size. The tzedekah box is something of the same! Except that instead of hoarding up change for themself, Jewish families collect the spare money to be able to help someone else in need. It doesn’t have to be just money though. It could be clothes, toys, food, or any other donation. How great is that! And what a sweet practice for children to get excited about service!

In the second book of Melchim (or Kings), we learn of a biblical example where a tzedekah box was placed in the temple to help with necessary building repairs on the Holy Temple itself.

And Jehoiada the priest took one chest and bored a hole in its door; and he placed it near the altar on the right, where a person enters the house of the Lord: and the priests, the guards of the threshold, would put all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, into there.

Melachim II 12:10

It’s a tradition that’s been around clearly since Biblical times and is supported by teachings in the Tanakh to not turn away beggars empty-handed.

So, how’s that for a crash course in a piece of Jewish doctrine and tradition. And what a better time than the winter holidays to teach your children a lesson about this people with a culture of giving and end it with a service activity?!

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Ways to implement tzedekah in your family

  • Make your own tzedekah box and start collecting coins
  • Fill up a box or bag of toys or clothes to donate to someone in need
  • Make a habit of taking coins with you this season for your children to give to the Santa’s and Red Cross collections at local shopping centers
  • Put a box of water, granola bars and other good foods in your car to give to homeless people you see at public places that are safe to stop

To learn more, visit: