An El Paso rabbi’s campaign to make people aware of the importance of charity was on display Wednesday in the Texas House of Representatives.
Plastic yellow arks — charity boxes provided by the Chabad Lubavitch Centers of Texas — were placed on the desks of all House members as part of the commemoration of Education and Sharing Day. The day marks the birthdate of one of the most influential Jewish spiritual leaders of the 20th century, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He died in 1994.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said he learned about the arks from Rabbi Levi Greenberg of Chabad of El Paso.
“The idea is to make giving … part of your daily life. And if you make that routine, it makes you more aware, it makes (you) more empathetic, makes you think about things that are needed and people that are in need,” said Moody, who also serves as speaker pro tempore of the Texas House.
Greenberg said the idea of distributing the arks came after Moody brought a charity box to a ceremony on the House floor in 2019 marking Education and Sharing Day.
“He placed a dollar in it while we were standing there by the podium. And as he did that, the other legislators that were standing next to him, they all pulled out dollars and started to give charity as well,” Greenberg said.
At Moody’s request, the House sergeant at arms placed the arks on desks before lawmakers convened on Wednesday.
“With all the divisiveness in politics and some of the nastiness that surrounds this work, I thought this was very impactful: something we can do to have a positive impact on the members of the body. And hopefully that trickles down to the people that they interact with,” Moody said.
Charity is an important tenet in Jewish tradition. Charity boxes are a feature of many Jewish homes, businesses and institutions. Schneerson famously handed out dollar bills on Sundays, with the expectation that the recipient would give the dollar to charity.
“Jewish tradition teaches us that the whole concept of creation, the whole concept of our existence is all about charity,” Greenberg said. “G-d is always being charitable to us, and G-d expects that we should reciprocate, that we should learn from G-d, and we should do the same.”
The plastic yellow arks were developed in 2014 by a division of Chabad — an orthodox Jewish movement — in South Africa. The arks embody the biblical story of Noah and the flood and also represent an acronym for “acts of random kindness” or “acts of routine kindness.”
Greenberg has worked for several years to bring the ark campaign to El Paso. In partnership with the El Paso Community Foundation, he planned to distribute thousands of arks to El Paso Independent School District students in 2020, but those plans were put on hold by the pandemic.
The El Paso rabbi hopes the display of the arks in the House of Representatives — “a place that belongs to all Texans” — will be an inspiration. He hopes people “will take a little box in their home and designate it as a giving box, and they will start to give charity on a daily basis. And they will take that money and give it the charity of their choice.”
Moody said Greenberg and the Chabad congregation exemplify the welcoming culture of El Paso.
“The thing that I always talk about in a positive light in El Paso is our willingness to open the door for people, to understand that people come from different places, different backgrounds,” he said. “And what makes us a great community is that we’re very embracing of that. Their community certainly reflects that back out into El Paso and we should celebrate that.”
If you’d like to order an ark, email email@example.com.
Cover photo: Ark-shaped charity boxes were placed on members’ desks in the Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Joe Moody)
Disclosure: The El Paso Community Foundation is the fiscal agent and a financial supporter of El Paso Matters.