Tzedakah Box Secrets at Eldridge Street
Here at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a historic Tzedakah box holds all kinds of stories about the original congregants, and provides us with hints about how they lived and what they held dear.
This Tzedakah box–or “donation container”–is very different from standard Tzedakah boxes: it has six separate openings to represent six different charity organizations based in the Lower East Side and abroad. This way, members of the congregation could give what extra money they had to a different charity every day of the week other than Saturday, since Orthodox Jews are not permitted to handle money on the Sabbath. A congregant could choose to put money toward an organization that supported Jewish settlements in Palestine, toward a consolidated network of multiple charitable organizations, or toward the preservation and repair of holy books and maintenance of the building. There was an option to donate to a local Yeshiva (one that later became Yeshiva University), and there was an option to make a contribution in the name of a deceased family member.
Of course, as with every artifact in our historic Shul, folklore surrounds the Tzedakah box. Word once had it that although the Tzedakah box features six slots for six charities, the synagogue treasurers would open the box’s heavy iron door to reveal that the money dropped into each of the supposedly separate six slots had actually gone to the same place–into one big box! This past week, one of the architects involved in our reception lobby renovations opened up the Tzedakah box for the first time and revealed something exciting: the six slots actually do correspond to six separate boxes, each with its own painted-on label with the abbreviated name of each charity, marked very clearly, to prevent confusion.
Evidently, the original congregants of the Eldridge Street Shul viewed giving charity as a very important part of their membership to the synagogue, and as an important part of being new Jewish immigrants in a new country, helping one another to start new lives.
By Emilie Zifkin