On Giving, Shabbat, and COVID-19

With the structure of daily life disrupted, Shabbat remains a weekly beacon rooting us in time and place, a deliberate pause when we can reflect and connect. How has your sense of self altered amid the pandemic? How has your role in your community shifted, your sense of interconnectedness to the world? So much has changed, and quickly — but Shabbat remains. How might we embrace these 25 hours and elevate time beyond the boundaries of the everyday?

Amplifier and OneTable teamed up last year to bring you the Tzedakah Shabbat Dinner Guide. During this time of greater charitable need, social isolation, and new ways of connecting, we see this guide as a path forward to radical generosity, connectedness, and clarity. 

Use this guide, with the supplemental resources and tips below, to elevate Shabbat this week with the theme of tzedakah, which, at its root, means righteousness and justice, but is commonly understood as charitable giving. If you’re able to give, your generosity can be the act that manifests your most deeply held values in the world. For those who can, now is the time to give. By taking time on Friday night to focus on what you and your loved ones are able to donate and combining your resources, Shabbat can be a little taste of the ideal — what Jewish theology calls “the world to come” — for you and those in need.

Invite your friends to a Shabbat dinner via Zoom, download the guide, and use the following tips to make your virtual gathering a success:

  • Whether you’re logging into a virtual Shabbat dinner from your home office or your couch, it can be helpful to tune into your senses to transform your home into a place for intention and ritual. Connection, learning, and giving tzedakah are powerful acts of transformation in the world. Making your space conducive to that intention can help you tap into that power. Check out OneTable’s guide to Transforming Your New Home Office into a Shabbat Sanctuary. For general tips on creating #FridayNightMagic with virtual Shabbat, check out this resource
  • Before inviting guests to your virtual Shabbat dinner, consider whether you’d like your guests to contribute funds to a collective gift to an organization you’ll determine in advance or as a group, or if you’ll encourage them to give to organizations of their own choosing. Then, suggest a donation size (Need a place to start? Try  a simple $5, or denominations of $18, the numerical representation of the word life (חי) in Hebrew). If you or your guests would prefer to refrain from handling money on Shabbat, you can collect the money on Sunday or later in the week.
  • Use the Tzedakah Ritual Guide to share Shabbat rituals with your guests. Over your meal, consider splitting into breakout rooms with 3-5 people to go through Amplifier’s COVID-19 Giving Guide. For a collective gift, you can follow the flowchart as a group, collaborating on how you’ll proceed. For individual gifts, give a few minutes for guests to go through the chart on their own, and then some time for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings at the end. If it’s within the parameters of your Shabbat practice, consider making a gift right then in real-time and celebrate your giving together.

For more ideas about where to give, check out this curated list of local organizations doing direct service work, brought to you by Amplifier in partnership with Repair the World and Avodah.

The need is great. If you’re able, you have the power to change and sustain lives, and to do so while grounded in community, togetherness, and ritual. When we look back on this time, hopefully from a post-COVID world that is more beautiful, just, and abundant than the one before, will we be able to say that we contributed to that change? Will we be able to say that we helped to save a life, pikuach nefesh, provide kavod or human dignity, preserve the things we love, and love our neighbors, even from afar? 

It’s helpful to spread the word about tzedakah, both to promote the organization(s) you give to and also to share awareness that this is a time when giving is needed more than ever. We invite you to take photos or screenshots of your friends using the virtual tzedakah Shabbat guide, and post them using the hashtag #TzedakahShabbat. If you’re unable to give right now, word of mouth can be just as powerful! 

Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah.

 — Talmud Yerushalmi, Tractate Peah

This blog was co-authored by Rabbi Jessica Minnen, Rabbi in Residence & Director of Program at OneTable and Arielle Brender, Program and Communications Associate at Amplifier.

Jessica Minnen

Rabbi in Residence & Director of Program | Lover of outdoor concert venues, words that sound like what they mean, and my noodle poodle Lucy.

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