This Chanukah, groups focus on charity

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washington | Three major Jewish groups representing 3 million congregants and 123 local communities are urging their combined membership to donate the value of the gifts they would otherwise exchange (or the actual gifts themselves) on one night of Chanukah to local or national organizations that assist the poor.

Through a joint initiative titled Ner Shel Tzedakah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Union for Reform Judaism and The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism have joined together to confront poverty in America this Chanukah.

Recognizing that one in 10 American families — and one in 20 Jewish families — live in poverty, the coalition is encouraging individuals, families and congregations to devote the sixth night of Chanukah to learning about the problem of poverty and taking action. “The combined efforts of all of our congregants should make an enormous difference this Chanukah,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, added, “Jews must not lose sight of issues that confront our community in the areas closest to our homes.” In connection with this program, the Jewish council for Public Affairs (www.jewishpublicaffairs.org) and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (www.rac.org) Web sites now list dozens of educational resources ranging from teachings on tzedakah to statistics about poverty.

Also included are suggested program ideas that can be used not only on Chanukah but also throughout the entire year. According to Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of JCPA, “Connecting this effort to Chanukah gives us the opportunity to teach our children — and remind us all —that helping those in need is a fundamental Jewish value.”