With Passover in full swing, so is the tradition of counting the omer, the 49 days leading to Shavuot. But that’s not the only thing students at the Bet Yeladim preschool in Columbia will be counting this year.
“All teachers and staff have each been assigned a day of the omer at which they will bring in an item of clothing they are willing to donate to a local charity,” said Jodi Fishman, executive director at Bet Yeladim.
“At the same time, all of our families have been invited to select one item of clothing a day for each of the 49 days of the omer that they are also willing to donate.”
The clothing will be hung in Bet Yeladim’s hallways until June 10, the day before erev Shavuot. GreenDrop, selected by the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the National Federation of the Blind to raise funds through collection of clothing, will visit the school to pick up the items.
The idea for the project came from teacher Marcie Cissell and one of her colleagues, who saw this as an opportune time to celebrate the Jewish tradition and also complete a service project. When they pitched the idea to Fishman, she “brought it to the next level” by including not just the children, but their families as well.
“Because of [the visual aspect] happening in the hallway, it’s going to prompt a lot of questions and discussions, not only for children and teachers, but everyone who comes into the school,” said Fishman. “It’s a great opportunity to educate our families as well about the omer.”
Cissell added, “Anytime we can bring the families together with the staff, it makes it more meaningful for the children.”
Because the project will involve teachers, staff, students and their families, the range of clothes donated will span all ages and sizes, as families decide who will donate a piece of clothing on any given day.
In addition to using the hanging clothes as a reminder of the omer, the school wants to ensure that students see the impact their giving makes, Fishman said.
Barbara Frederick is associate director of Bet Yeladim and has been with the school for 35 years. She said the concept of tzedakah, or charity, has evolved as the school has developed.
“When I first started with this school, we had our decorated container for the children to contribute to and teachers could talk about [tzedakah], but it was very abstract,” said Frederick. “Teachers felt they needed to have something concrete” to better explain the concept of tzedakah.
The school has organized other hands-on experiences such as going to the supermarket to purchase food items with the money raised from tzedakah. Afterward, the students walked to the Howard County Food Bank to weigh and donate the items. Cissell said this experience weighed heavily on one particular boy who asked others to bring food items to his next birthday party so he could make another donation to the food bank.
“I think making these connections between home and school is so important, and this is such a great way of visually doing that for the children,” said Fishman. “Not only at school do we pay attention to the needs of others, but as a family, we do that too.”