The Contemporary Jewish Museum is temporarily closed. Learn more

Architecture & DesignJewish HistoryJewish Culture & IdeasContemporary Art

Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box

Nov 14, 1999–Jan 23, 2000

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) continues its fifteen year tradition of inviting contemporary artists to re-examine Jewish ritual objects with the exhibition Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box. The subject of this invitational, the tzedakah box (or pushke in Yiddish) was a traditionally humble container found in synagogues, Jewish homes and institutions in which charitable donations are deposited. This ritual object was chosen because it represents a tradition which embodies community outreach, service and empowerment to others. Hebrew for "righteousness," tzedakah is the act of charity in Jewish culture and faith.

about the exhibition

For Making Change, The CJM invited a diverse group of artists from all over the country—from a variety of cultural backgrounds, states of residence, perspectives and media—on one common criterion: their demonstrated commitment to work on community empowerment. The goal was to find artists who reveal the meaning and relevance of tzedakah today—not just for Jews, but for all people. Each artist was given the same directions, background information, and dimensional requirements. But the results are extraordinarily diverse: wooden boxes that can't be opened; precious silver wrapped as gifts; containers made of drinking straws, subway lamps, or rice; objects that rewarded you for making a deposit; and others you couldn't put money into if you tried.

Although each work reflects an individualized concept, three fundamental approaches can be distilled. The first situated the tzedakah box as a site of memory, a marker of a specific time in a Jewish past. The second championed tzedakah itself, but also questioned its contemporary relevance. The last offered the box as a kinetic site of doing and acting—a catalyst for change. No box, however, could be limited to a single category; as with tzedakah, there is a great deal of conceptual intersection and fluidity. These works were not passive objects, but enlisted us to consider our part in the act of tzedakah, and mobilized us to make change. In the imagination of these artists, the ancient concept of tzedakah was put into action for a new millennium.

This exhibition is a fundraiser for The Museum's education programs and each tzedakah box is available for purchase. A special catalog accompanies the exhibition, and is also available for purchase.

image gallery

Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box was organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum. The exhibition was made possible by generous grants from the Richard N. & Rhoda H. Goldman Philanthropic Fund, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation, and Walter and Elise Haas Fund, with additional support from the Koret Foundation and OFFITBANK. The exhibition catalog was made possible by a generous grant from The Frances K. and Theodore H. Geballe Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and is a beneficiary of the California Arts Council, Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Image Credit

Header image: Liz Mamorsky, Neil Tzedakah Box, 1999. Mixed media mask with light and sound. Header image and gallery photos reproduced from the catalog for Making Change: 100 Artists Interpret the Tzedakah Box, on view Nov 14, 1999–Jan 23, 2000 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.