It’s that time of year again to reset our GPS devices. Each morning’s shofar blow brings us one step closer to the Yamim Nora’im. So whether last year’s highlighted route ran into a traffic jam or succeeded in reaching the checkered flag, we give a little more thought in these weeks to our desired coordinates for the coming year. We also think about the goals that we have in mind for our children and grandchildren. And whatever our dreams for their achievements, inevitably their success can trace its roots to some aspect of their learning, experiences, and friendships from elementary school. This weekend, the Queens community is focusing on the critical role of the local elementary schools for our children and for our community.

As we send our children off to school each day, we entrust them to the dedicated m’chanchim of our community, and we partner with the schools to infuse them not only with the knowledge that they will need for life, but with a love for Torah and a passion for Yiddishkeit. We’re also (rightfully) very demanding of our schools. We want them to attract and retain the best rebbeim and teachers, have adequate support staff, buildings that are well-equipped and in good repair, state-of-the-art classrooms, trips, and special programming. The greater the funding we can ensure for our schools, the more they can provide both the basics and the extras, and our children and community will reap the benefits.

The Torah provides guidance for appropriate prioritization of donations to so many worthy and critical organizations and causes. But there is a responsibility that precedes such considerations, and that is takanas ha’ir, establishment of the community. The Jewish community must ensure the existence and viability of its basic communal resources, much akin to our municipal obligation to ensure the existence of local police and fire departments.

In this regard, the community launched an initiative several years ago to increase the support of our schools, called “SOS:Queens,” and the rabbanim of our neighborhood have publicized a p’sak from Rav Elyashiv zt”l specifying that contributions to local institutions, including boys’ and girls’ elementary schools, takes precedence over donations to non-local causes. This initiative received the warm support of HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita, the Rosh HaYeshiva from Philadelphia, who previously made a special trip to Queens just to speak at an SOS:Queens event and give chizuk to the initiative.

Over the past few years, the SOS:Queens program has increased the community’s support of the schools. The program has seen a wide range of participants, including both larger donations and smaller contributions that each add up to meaningful amounts. Several donors have been recurring users of the donation functionality on the SOS:Queens website, making small contributions through the site at different times throughout the year. In addition, many donors have contributed to multiple schools in the neighborhood – including those where their children did not attend – following the theme that supporting all of our local elementary schools strengthens our entire community in so many ways. SOS:Queens has been successful in putting our local elementary schools on the map of worthy tz’dakah recipients.

This week is the SOS:Queens Community Shabbos. The goal of this Shabbos is to build on the program’s strong momentum and further raise the initiative’s participation rate in the coming year. SOS:Queens is looking for more community members to join this exciting movement and prioritize a portion of their annual tz’dakah contributions to the local elementary schools. Community members can make contributions to the schools of their choice at Alternatively, donations can be made directly to any of the local schools (but in order to continue tracking the success of the program, it is requested that each contribution indicate that it is in response to the SOS:Queens program). Either way, all contributed amounts go directly to the schools selected by the donor.

Men and women of the community are also invited to the SOS:Queens Community Breakfast, which will be held at 9:00 a.m. this Sunday, September 15, at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, with Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh HaYeshiva of Darchei Torah, as the guest speaker.

Building on our success from the past, we know where to program our GPS for the coming year. With our community’s continued involvement in the SOS:Queens program, this coming year can make an even greater impact on the financial well-being of our local elementary schools, on the future of our community, and on our children’s future achievements. This is certainly a meaningful z’chus to add as we prepare for the upcoming Yamim Nora’im.

By: Mendel Starkman