Tzedakah (Tz)Thursday: The Grais Family

For Jason and Jacy Grais, tzedakah and Tikkun Olam have always been a big part of their family — both growing up and now that they are raising three daughters. Both are active throughout the Twin Cities Jewish community, from being on boards and advisory committees, to volunteering and helping with hands-on activities to help both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. We talked with them about the sacrifices required to make tzedakah and Tikkun Olam work for their family.

What is your definition of Tikkun Olam?

Jacy Grais: My definition of Tikkun Olam is that I think it’s our obligation as people regardless of how we practice our Judaism, to try and leave our world, our community, in a better place than when we found it.

Jason Grais: It’s about looking out for others, just trying to do our part in the world. To make an impact in the world beyond what we need to do for our family and ourselves. As Jews, it’s not just our obligation but our privilege to help other Jews and help others throughout the world.

How do you balance the time and energy and effort in the Jewish world and secular?

Jacy: I think it’s an ongoing balance. One thing we both think about is the fact that if there aren’t Jews helping Jews then there might be nobody helping Jews. We’ve been to other parts of the world where we’ve seen what it means to be a needy Jew; and what it means to be a needy Jew in eastern Europe for example, in the former Soviet Union, is heart-wrenching. We can’t leave those people in the dust. That said, there are lots of worthy organizations that have no connection with Judaism that are secular organizations that do really good, really important work for our community and our world and it’s important to support those too. And it’s important as Jews that we support them and that they see that Jews aren’t only looking out for Jews.

Jason: One of the things we try to do when we can, especially when there’s an opportunity to help non-Jews through Jewish organizations and show that Jews are helping people whether tsunami relief or other natural disasters, or refugees. That Jews are helping those people as a Jewish community, as opposed to potentially giving through more secular causes because we think that helps people around the world know that Jews care and Jews don’t care just about themselves but they care for everyone.

Do you see Tikkun Olam being different for our generation than our parents?

Jason: I think in our generation, people feel less obligation both to give their time and their money. Tikkun Olam is more than just giving money; it’s giving time. It’s doing service projects, it’s working for organizations that are serving the community, and it’s, of course, giving money. So I think when we talk to people in our generation, they feel less obligated but more motivated for certain things they care about. I think there’s something missing in that there’s not the general obligation to maybe help things that are not the most attractive causes but are necessary and where there’s a big need.

Jacy: I think in my family, I don’t see much of a difference between my parent’s generation and my generation. I think we’re raising our kids pretty similar to how I was raised in terms of the value of tzedakah, the value of Tikkun Olam, the importance of giving your time and your money and your energy and your effort. I think it’s very similar in my family. I think Jason is accurate in the sense that our generation doesn’t necessarily feel the pull – the obligation and the history – that prior generations have, in that you give because this is where you give because this is what you do. There’s more of an interest, perhaps, in finding the niche or a specific area where people would like to get involved in theory, and whether or not they do is the next step.

You talk about the niche; how do you decide what’s important in terms of money and time?

Jason: I think the first thing is you make a decision that you’re going to do something in general. You’re going to make the time to figure out what causes are important to you, and to dedicate yourself to those causes. Whether it’s a very specific cause or a more broad organization or organizations that impact a bunch of different things, you have to make the commitment that you’re going to do it. That’s something that Jacy and I take a lot of pride in. We’re both really busy, but we take the time to work in the community. That’s a sacrifice; it’s a sacrifice for our kids, it’s a sacrifice for us as a couple, but without that commitment of time, it doesn’t get you very far.

Jacy: It is a sacrifice, but I’d say that the benefits reaped by the sacrifice of time away from our children and time away from each other are tenfold the sacrifice. The lessons we’re able to teach our kids, by telling them I’m going to be gone tonight, but I’m going to a meeting and it’s for tzedakah, this is what I’m doing and this is why. And the time away from each other, as well, when you know it’s something meaningful, it’s an easy case to make. And we can be supportive of each other. As for financial donations, we discuss it. We have a family discussion. From year-to-year, we evaluate what we’ve done in the past and what we want to do differently. It’s an ongoing, evolving process.

Do you get your kids involved in hands-on tzedakah or Tikkun Olam?

Jason: I think we’re really lucky, from a really early age, not only have Jacy and I instilled the values of Tikkun Olam into our kids, but the environment they’ve been around. Starting in preschool at the Gan at Adath, the staff found opportunities both within the school and outside of school to make sure kids were thinking beyond themselves. Making sure they had the opportunities to visit older people, visit people in their home to deliver care packages, go to homeless shelters and serve food, and those are all things we’ve taken advantage of as a family from a very early age to help our kids understand that we need to do more and be thoughtful about how we’re helping others.

Jacy: There was a Facebook discussion recently: A woman had posted that she wanted to know what could she do to help her children be more grateful for anything and everything in their lives. There was a lot of really interesting discussions: You can volunteer at this place or that place. Once they reach age 8 there are lots of opportunities. I love seeing all that, I love the discussion; I thought it was so great. But I really also felt that in addition to specifics, it needs to be supplemented with an everyday discussion in the home and not forcing it down your kids’ throats, but making it a part of their everyday culture in your home, in addition to supplementing with activities outside the home.

Jason: I think it’s a constant conversation. Of course, our kids are going to learn from our actions, learn from our deeds, and they’re going to pick things up along the way. You never know what they’re going to pick up, whether it’s those direct conversations we’re trying to teach them, or if it’s just learning from what they see in their grandparents or parents and in those around them. If you keep trying and keep that part of the conversation, then I have no doubt that our kids will turn out to care for others and figure out their way to make a difference in the world.