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The Sabbath and the Pushka

November 20, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, November 20, 2015.

The Sabbath and the Pushka

So... what is a pushka? A pushka is the Yiddish word for a charity box. You’ve all seen them – they’re made of tin or paper and usually have some sort of image or advertisement for a particular charity. As a child, I remember going to Weinstein’s Deli in Pittsburgh and seeing a puska near the cash register for the Bikkur Cheilim Society (a charity that helps the sick): the Puska had a picture of my Great Aunt Katie on it – it was her favorite charity and they honored her with her picture on the Pushka! We had no idea she was so famous. Today, however, lots of Jewish artisans make elaborately beautiful pushkas made of wood or glass or silver and more.

The idea of putting up Pushkas in shops and public places is an ancient one. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the priests would put a large box for people to insert their contributions for the much needed repair of the building. Later on, synagogues too would have puskas attached to the wall of the synagogue. In the 17th Century, however, they started making smaller boxes for charities that people would put in their homes. One of these home boxes was the pushka of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes – named after a famous Second Century rabbi. This Charity helped support the poor in Israel. In the early years of the Zionist Movement, Herzl created the Jewish National Fund which collected charity money to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. In 1904, they created the famous “Blue Box” of the JNF. People would have these boxes in their homes and put their pennies in them to contribute to the Zionist Movement.

And here’s where the Sabbath comes in. It’s a long standing tradition to give charity just before the Sabbath. People would have one or more of these pushkas in their home, most often right next to their Shabbath Candlesticks, and would make a contribution just before lighting the Sabbath candles. So Tzedakah (charity) and the Sabbath have always been linked.

Tzedakah box of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes

The famous JNF “Blue Box”

A modern carved wood Pushka

Shabbat Shalom