By Hannah Lee
What could you give to someone who has everything essential? When my friend, Mary Jo, finally married her long-time sweetheart and they combined two households, she didn’t need another set of wine goblets or china. I was thrilled when she said that a donation to Heifer International would warm her heart. I knew of their humanitarian work in foreign countries, but I’d yet to learn of their myriad educational projects, including ones here in the United States. So, I purchased a flock of chicks in her honor. These chicks were given to an eligible family overseas and when they grow up and become productive, the family donates the new chicks to another family in a Passing on the Gift ceremony. This is tzedakah that grows exponentially from your initial investment.Heifer International‘s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.
It all started with a cow.
Its origin lore states:
Moved by the plight of orphans and refugees of the Spanish Civil War as he ladled out meager rations of powdered milk, Dan West, an Indiana farmer, volunteer relief worker and Church of the Brethren member, grasped that the people needed “a cow, not a cup”– cows that could produce milk so families would not have to depend on temporary aid. From that simple idea, Heifer International was born.
In 1944, the first cows sent abroad were donated by West’s neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II. More than 67 years later, Heifer has expanded its mission, just as it expanded to 30 types of animals it now provides– from goats, geese and guinea pigs to bees, silkworms and water buffalo.
This Hanukkah, Heifer International is providing a variety of gift options that fulfill the Jewish mitzvot of tzedakah and tikkun olam. They’ve launched the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website, where shoppers can honor a loved one — from Abba to Zaide, in their words — with a cow, goat, or chicks to help an impoverished family move from dependence to independence. Heifer provides livestock, trees, seeds, and training in environmentally-sound agriculture to families in more than 42 countries, including the United States, Nepal, China, Brazil, Rwanda, and Armenia.
Mark Feuerstein (of USA Network’s Royal Pains) and Ed Asner (known to the younger generation by his voice in the Pixar film Up) are featured in a family-friendly video. Mark dresses up as a Heifer, the gift that Ed plans to give his granddaughter, which will provide an impoverished family with four gallons of milk a day. “My granddaughter will receive the gift of giving tzedakah,” Ed says. “Kids play with a good toy for a few months or a year, but this gift ends poverty here at home and abroad.”
With Heifer at Hanukkah, Jewish shoppers can select socially-conscious and eco-friendly gifts to dedicate to their loved ones. These gifts include:
- A Flock of Chicks ($20): A flock of chicks can help families add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets. The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.
- A Boost of Nutrition ($36): This gift has everything a malnourished child needs to become healthy and happy: fruit and vegetable seeds to provide vitamins and minerals, chickens to provide daily protein from eggs, training in sustainable farming, and nutrition for parents.
- Women’s Self-Help Group ($72): Help start a group to empower women to learn to read, teach them valuable skills, and decrease their vulnerability to domestic violence, trafficking and health-related issues.
- A Goat ($120): A dairy goat can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day– that’s a ton of milk in a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Families also learn to use goat manure to fertilize gardens.
- An Ark ($5,000): The Heifer Gift Ark is one of the most comprehensive gifts you can make to hungry families worldwide– 15 pairs of animals to change their lives.
I’ve long wanted to keep chickens and I have been collecting books on their care. I’ve even checked with our zoning codes — two chickens, no roosters, and 15-feet from our neighbors. Finally, this fall, my husband gave me his approval, with the stipulation that I research the methods to protect chickens from predators. I’ve learned that they’re fine from cats, but they’re vulnerable to dogs, foxes, and hawks. For me, it’d be an indulgence, a hobby. In the meantime, I can indulge my fancy by sponsoring chickens that could sustain a family overseas.
Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism Editor, says,
Consider reading this article with your children or grandchildren and visiting the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website when they come for Hanukkah. This is a cause where giving gelt together can inspire a new generation of caring Jewish donors.