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REGARDING “VALIANT DUTY” (TZDEKAH BOX)

Charitable giving is an integral part of most religions.  Statements such as “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and “I am my brother’s keeper” emphasize the responsibility of each individual in the care of his fellow man.
When invited to create a Tzdekah/alms box for exhibition in the gallery of a local Jewish community center, I decided to investigate the history of Tzdekah box usage in Jewish homes and to combine the concept of giving with some historical aspect of the gallery’s locale – the Great Lakes.  

Charity, the act of giving to others, is one of the basic precepts of Judaism.  Traditional Jews give at least ten percent of their annual income to charity.  Charity is believed to be of such great spiritual benefit, that the beggar is thought to be doing a great favor for the giver, by providing that person with the opportunity to perform “tzedka”, or “fairness”.  In Judaism, giving to the poor is viewed not just as a charitable act, but as performing justice and righteousness.  It is common, therefore, for Jewish homes to display a collection box, where coins for the poor are routinely placed.

“Valiant Duty” was inspired by our proximity to the Great Lakes.  Historical maritime records of this area document the passage of over 200,000 vessels, often across treacherous waters.  At least 25,000 of these vessels never reached port.  Their loss is visible in the several underwater “parks”, which governments have set aside as memorials to their ruin.  The construction of lighthouses along the Great Lakes coasts has minimized the loss of lives and vessels in more recent times.  The oldest of these, still standing in its original location at the eastern edge of Lake Erie, wears the moniker, The Buffalo Bottle.  Although its appearance is unlike the tower forms later adopted, it continues to symbolize land based help to sea faring citizens – “a port in the storm”; man reaching out to help his fellow man: not just an act of charity, but a duty. 

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