At the religious school at Shir Ami-Bucks County Jewish Congregation in Newtown, Rabbi Eric Goldberg is trying to give his students a visceral connection to Israel by using something familiar to many of them — dogs. At every class meeting, the children have been asked to bring in a donation for a tzedakah project supporting Pups for Peace, an organization based in Hollywood that trains bomb sniffing dogs for use in Israeli counterterrorism.
The synagogue has set a goal of raising $10,000 — the cost of training one dog and deploying it to the Jewish state.
"Kids bring in money from allowances or birthdays," said Goldberg, who noted that cash is also raised through synagogue-organized bake sales and other events, as well as from donations made by congregants.
In class, the kids — who range from kindergarten to 10th-graders — learn about a trained dog's role in sniffing out potential suicide bombers and existing explosives in highly populated public centers across Israel.
"For us, as Jews, there is no greater mitzvah than pikuach nefesh — saving the life of another human being," attested Goldberg, the director of education at Shir Ami. "This allows students to learn more about that mitzvah and actively engage in it."
Since many of the children have dogs of their own, Goldberg believes they can better relate to the project.
"We're using it as our touch point," he said.
Though an associate from the Pups for Peace group plans to speak at the congregation, Goldberg is unsure if the students will ever meet their dog because of the heavy travel the animal will have to go through to get to Philadelphia, let alone to Israel.
Shir Ami began the tzedakah project on the first day of religious school back in September, and has reached 30 percent of its goal thus far, according to Goldberg.
He does expect the synagogue to reach the $10,000 mark by the end of the academic semester in May.
"With each school year," he encouraged, "we want our kids feeling ever more connected to Israel."