My family helped pick a neighbour’s apple tree on Labour Day weekend. It was heavy with fruit. I love this activity, as it connects us viscerally with the changing season. It also connects with the beginning of the Torah portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8). This portion instructs the Israelites to give some of their first fruits to the priests for the divine altar and, also, to give 10% of their harvest as a tithe, for those who are less fortunate.
Even though we make applesauce, apple chips, apple crisp and eat lots of fresh apples, we always pick more than we can use. It gives us a chance to interact with our neighbours and to help elders who need help cleaning up their yards. It also gives us a way to make a physical donation to those who might need it more than we do.
Each year, we choose places to donate the apples. This year, we made a visit to Chabad and dropped off apples. We know the Torah Tots preschoolers might like apple slices or applesauce. (My kids were once those preschoolers and remember snack very well!)
We also dropped off apples and visited a friend of ours. He works at the Welcome Home, a Ukrainian Catholic mission house in the North End of Winnipeg. Welcome Home works in part as a food pantry, offering weekly hampers and meals to the hungry. It also provides places for kids to play, people to gather and worship, and access other supports. It’s housed in a big old building that used to be a duplex. It was originally built as a rooming house for the new immigrants. The house was quiet on a weekday, only receiving occasional donations when we visited. However, you could almost hear the bustle of a weeknight dinner for the community, or the single immigrants or whole families who lived in these small rooms long ago when they first arrived in Canada.
I’m not mentioning this to boast of our tzedakah (charity) activities. I’m suggesting that, for many working families, donating 10% of their salaries doesn’t seem like a financially realistic goal. What about donating actual produce? That was something we could do. A few hours of apple picking and sorting seems like fun for my household, but the food is also meaningful. If we don’t pick it, in many yards, it’s left to fall and rot on the ground.
Community involvement is a way for us to show our gratitude when we feel blessed and lucky to be alive, but the involvement doesn’t have to be formal. We don’t all have to serve on a committee or make large, tax-deductible donations. It can be simpler than that. This past summer, my kids took swimming lessons at a lake and we often stopped for ice cream on the way home. The place where we bought ice cream had a tin on the counter. They collected change to support the food bank. So, each kid was handed change to donate. You get ice cream after a swimming class and you’re grateful. Give back.
This lesson can be extended further though. Part of the apple-picking exercise, the awkward part, might be knocking on your neighbour’s door. Yet, this is when you might learn your neighbour just had hand surgery, or was now too physically fragile to be able to pick up the fallen apples. It’s a chance to make informal and meaningful connections with others.
No matter how functional (or dysfunctional) our infrastructure is, government financial supports or provincial services don’t always manage to meet essential needs. This is when we can do more by reaching out to others who live nearby.
Rosh Hashanah, our new year, is an opportunity. We think about how we can do better and start anew. In many ways, this yearly “check-in” is our chance to reflect on how we can make more of a difference. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to have more than you need, it’s easy and very important to donate money. Perhaps you can sponsor a Jewish activity, a needed renovation in the Jewish community or support a project to increase the capacity of organizations that offer services to those in need.
For many of us, though, our commitment to helping others happens in a more modest way. It might be a dime dropped into the pushke (collection tin) or finding a way to feed others. It might be picking apples or donating an extra can of tuna to the food bank. It could be volunteering to help a new mom so she can take a shower while you watch the baby. It’s offering another working parent a play date so that he or she doesn’t have to pay for child care.
We can all invest more in helping others. Let’s be grateful for what we have by trying to give a bit more of ourselves and our labours to others who might need it this year. It’s the right thing to do.
My family and I wish you a very sweet new year, full of good health and lots of apples and honey.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.