Digital Platform ‘Pushka’ Modernizes Tzedakah

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Ross Lefkowitz doesn’t carry cash with him anymore, and he doesn’t think other millennials do, either.

The Bucks County native no longer walks past a tzedakah box at shul and stuffs in a dollar bill or slides in a few loose coins, but he still believes that fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah is just as important now as it was before credit cards, Apple Pay and Venmo rendered cash nearly useless to him.

As a solution to this modern-day problem, Lefkowitz, 28, created a modern-day solution: Pushka, “a digital tzedakah box,” which launches next month.


Ross Lefkowitz created Puskha to modernize the mitzvah of tzedakah | Courtesy of Ross Lefkowitz

Users sign-up on the Pushka website with their credit card or bank information and select from a host of Jewish organizations to which they are interested in donating. Pushka, powered by the fundraising platform Sparechange, automatically rounds up money spent on purchases and donates it to the user’s desired nonprofit organization.

Lefkowitz, who has a background in mechanical engineering, an MBA and a minor in computer science, was inspired to create Pushka while studying the Jewish commentative text of Pirkei Avot. In one commentary, Sephardic philosopher Rambam introduces the argument of giving a smaller amount of tzedakah daily versus giving a larger sum once.

“His encouragement was to give every single day,” Lefkowitz said. “Frequency is more important than size because you’re cultivating this sense of generosity.”

To ensure his idea of Pushka was spiritually aligned with modern Jewish values, Lefkowitz consulted with Mamash! Chabad Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky, who frequently rubs elbows with both young Jewish professionals and Jewish nonprofit leaders.

Grodnitzky assured Lefkowitz that even if an individual is not going through the physical motions of giving tzedakah, they’re still doing just as much of a mitzvah by giving virtually and passively.

“Mitzvahs do not need intention,” Grodnitzky said. “You can do a mitzvah by accident.”

After several meetings with Lefkowitz over the past 12 months, outside and socially distanced, Grodnitzky was on board with Pushka. Mamash! Chabad became the first organization to sign-up to receive donations.

Before Pushka goes live, Lefkowitz has been hard at work assembling a “launch cohort” of 30-40 local Jewish organizations to where users can donate. He’s reached out to synagogues and Hillels that might be interested.

Beyond giving Jews a way to fulfill a mitzvah daily and effortlessly, Pushka will provide an opportunity for nonprofits to build connections with donors in a way they haven’t previously, Lefkowitz said.

“Nonprofits are going through a change in the way that they do development and fundraising,” he said. “The traditional approach of fundraising from a handful of strategic donors is not very sustainable. Organizations are looking for ways to tap into the community and engage with the masses.”

Building relationships with donors takes time and lots of good rapport.

“It’s always a challenge for nonprofits to make that first ask, to get people involved in a donation, to create a donor relationship,” Grodnitzky said.

Through Pushka, the connection between donor and organization happens seamlessly and automatically. 

Moreover, organizations on Pushka can share donors. Users can select to donate different percentages of money to multiple organizations. 

One of the local Hillel directors Lefkowitz recruited was excited about not having to worry about the competitiveness of finding donors. The director told his friends from other organizations about Pushka, hoping they’d join too.

“He didn’t feel like he was competing for dollars,” Lefkowitz said.

Though the platform won’t officially launch until after the High Holidays, it’s already garnered a handful of users. Last month, Mamash! Chabad hosted a Pushka Popsicle Party happy hour for young Jews to learn more about the service. According to Grodnitzky, more than 30 people signed up for Pushka there.

Pushka is only available in the Philadelphia area for now, but Lefkowitz hopes it will grow to a national audience. Grodnitzky believes in the power of Pushka, too. He said it has the ability to make an impact on the world and fulfills a crucial component of Jewish righteousness: “making mitzvot as accessible as possible.”

To sign-up for Pushka, go to pushka.fund/.

srogelberg@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0741

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