Tzedakah (Tz)Thursday: The Wolfe Family

Brent and Debbie Wolfe are raising their three kids in Golden Valley, and are extremely active in both the Jewish and secular communities. In addition to Debbie working at Jewish Family and Children Services of Minneapolis as the PJ Library coordinator, Debbie has served on the board at Adath Jeshurun, and the whole family is active at their elementary school. How do they cram a busy schedule of activities in and still find time to teach their kids how to go about making the world a better place? We sat down with them to find out.

How do you define Tikkun Olam?

Brent Wolfe: Try to give back to the world and make it a better place.

Do you find that your definition is different than your parents and the older generation in terms of giving back?

Debbie Wolfe: I don’t know if the definition is different, but the act of doing it, I think, is probably a little bit different. Our parents were different; both our parents gave where they could with money and with service.

BW: My family did more in the service area of time and giving back to the community, versus donations.

Do you think that has changed generationally how you weigh money versus service?

BW: I think so. It’s become easier to donate funds than find time especially with families and running kids all over to different activities.

What kinds of charities are important to give to within the Jewish and secular communities?

DW: We like to give to charities or organizations that benefit our local community, and help us grow and sustain what we strive for. That means we like to give to our kids’ school. We like to give to our synagogue and local Jewish organizations that help feed our knowledge and education and what we like to do. And we like to give to other organizations that are helping to find cures for diseases that friends and family might have.

Do you have a pool and you divide as it comes?

BW: We have some foundational organizations that we know we’re giving to each year, and then there’s ad hoc causes that we hear about or events that we’re invited to that we decide at the time to throw our hands in the air and bid or donate at that time.

DW: Most of the giving we do at the end of the year, but if there’s things that have taken place at the end of the year that we’ve given to, obviously that’ll change our pool at the end. We support friends and family. If we’re invited to a benefit that was something new to us and we end up giving, it might change what we end up giving to at the end of the year.

How do you teach your kids about this?

DW: I remember even growing up that it was just a part of who we are. We have not really sat down and discussed that we give a certain amount of money throughout the year. It is what it is. We do give and we try to do mitzvahs by doing service projects. My parents never said we’re going to give a lump sum and we’re going divide it up the among these organizations. It was Tikkun Olam and we’re helping to repair our community and the world.

BW: I think we share with the boys that we’re donating to causes to help the cause, to contribute to it. We don’t share sums or values; that part’s not important. Just the fact that we’re actively involved with things that are important.

Do they seem to get that, that there are less fortunate among us?

DW: They get that piece and the act of doing a mitzvah. I don’t know if they understand the global Tikkun Olam piece of it. But they know even being nice to someone sitting by themselves at lunch is a mitzvah and is a piece of helping to repair the whole of the parts. They know that the panhandler on the street, they’ll see people giving money and food, that’s a piece of Tikkun Olam.

BW: Debbie helps out on the PTO and is involved with different events throughout the year and they see the direct impact of that. Some of the other things we donate to are, I’ll call it more mysterious. It’s happening behind the scenes but they don’t know directly how it relates to their daily lives.

DW: They don’t know that my being a part of the PTO is Tikkun Olam. They don’t realize it’s part of what we do as parents. I don’t think they connect the dots that it’s part of that definition as well. They do know we like to donate at Herzl. And they know that will benefit them directly but they get to be campers and enjoy it, because, first of all, we pay for them to go to camp. But for everything else we do, volunteering and giving.

Have you gotten them involved hands on?

BW: Max helps with the PTO at Meadowbrook.

DW: At JFCS, the Chag Sameach program. Every year they color on the bags that are given to the families for the Hanukkah and Passover bags. They’ve also picked out toys that we’ve bought and then given to either Toys For Tots or Chag Sameach to donate.

BW: Nate wants to do Yom H’Avodah at Herzl. It’s something he relates to: ‘I go to camp, it’s my camp, it’s a chance for me to do stuff there.’

DW: They’ve each done at Camp Olami a session of Tikkun Olami, so each day they’ve done something to repair camp, or they’ve gone on field trips to Feed My Starving Children where they’ve seen how to help others.

It seems like they sort of get it at some level.

BW: They’re connecting the dots, but definitely doing actions on the path.

DW: I’m not sure at Talmud Torah they’re learning about it, or at school, which is a nonreligious school, but what they’re learning is about service projects or giving to others. I think it’s really up to us as parents to educate.