Allyship and the Value of Privilege

August 8, 2014


Graie teaching Or Tzedek participants about the ladder of oppression

By Graie Barasch-Hagans

Or Tzedek Advanced Activism ’14 Counselor

During two weeks in June, I had the honor of serving on staff for the Advanced Activism session of Or Tzedek working in a community of dedicated youth seeking an active role in achieving Olam Ha’Ba (the world as it should be).

This community, an intentional residential Jewish community, gave us the time and space to intensively practice being individuals united for good. It gave us the space to explore our identity as allies.

As August rolls around, I’ve continued contemplating the role of allyship in creating communities dedicated to change and how allyship relates to my practice of Judaism. Allyship is a complicated task, being an ally asks more than just good intentions of a person.

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Harvesting at Growing Home

August 6, 2014
photo 1

Noa (from left), Gracee and Rena at Growing Home.

By Rena Newman
Or Tzedek Advanced Activism ’14

Last Thursday, a group of five Or Tzedekers trekked down to the Wood Street Urban Farm – a USDA certified, all-organic garden in Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. As we parked, we could see the rows and rows of kale, chard, and radishes through the chain link. Tomato plants stood dignified in the shade of a hoop-house.

The Wood Street Urban Farm is one of two farms run by the organization, Growing Home. However, their mission isn’t just to prove they have a green thumb. Growing Home delivers tons of fresh produce to an area where there is none; a food desert. Food deserts are neighborhoods that are devoid of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food choices within a mile radius. Instead, these places are riddled with ‘quick marts’, franchises that sell only chips, pop, and snacks.

Food deserts deny people the opportunity to be healthier, and in turn, deny them the opportunity to be happier.  The most unfortunate fact about food deserts is just how common they are in (and around) Chicago. Englewood is considered huge food desert. But the superheroes of Growing Home are combating it, one carrot at a time.

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(Guest Post) Making Votes Count: A New Vision for Illinois

November 7, 2013

(Editor’s Note: JCUA encourages submissions for guest blog posts on issues of social concern in Chicago, and Illinois more broadly. To inquire about submitting a guest blog post, please contact: info@jcua,org).

banner maps

by Ryan Blitstein
Senior Advisor for “Yes for Independent Maps.”  

I want to tell you about the Illinois we all wish we lived in.

The Illinois where our tax dollars are spent wisely—helping someone’s child stave off hunger, instead of lining the pockets of corrupt politicians. The state where the decisions government makes are open to us, not manipulated by legislators working only for themselves. The Illinois where we can walk up to the ballot box on Election Day, and choose a leader to represent our needs, knowing that the outcome was not determined months before in some smoke-filled room.

We don’t live in that state yet. But we can build it together.

panda mapsLet me introduce you to Yes for Independent Maps, a campaign to fix the broken, secretive redistricting process and put the voters back in charge of Illinois.

What does redistricting reform have to do with our vision? Behind closed doors, partisan leaders carve up legislative districts to guarantee their re-election. They cut themselves off from accountability, so if they’re corrupt or not getting the job done, we can’t vote them out of office. Fixing redistricting is the first step toward transforming our state for the better.

Independent redistricting protects and expands representation for diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups. After California instituted independent maps, it led to a fresh crop of Jewish legislators in Sacramento, who created the first-ever Jewish caucus to focus on issues of interest to the community. This new, independently elected State Legislature has also addressed some of the root causes of poverty, from outdated school funding formulas to a broken immigration system.

This isn’t about which party is in charge, and it isn’t about a candidate, either. No one person has the power to heal our broken political system, but together, we can make it happen. It all starts with voters like you.

It’s time to let go of our cynicism and believe in the power of movements to solve big problems. I know with the help of friends like you, we can make that happen here in Illinois.

If you want to get involved in this historic campaign, visit

A JCUA Board Member Explains: Why I Decided To Break The Law

November 6, 2013

by Sidney Hollander
JCUA Board Member

On Wednesday, November 6, 2013 JCUA board members, staff, and lay leaders will participate in an act of civil disobedience, in protest of ongoing deportations that are tearing apart immigrant families and in a call to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. 125 people will block streets surrounding the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Building in downtown Chicago, and thousands more will serve as witnesses. Sidney Hollander is a JCUA board member, past president of the board, and a member of JCUA’s Immigrant Justice Action Team.

Sidney Hollander

Sidney Hollander

I do not undertake civil disobedience lightly.  Law is a foundation of civilization, and is absolutely central to Judaism.  Jews are commanded to welcome the stranger.  The commandment is repeated more than thirty times, the most of any commandment in the Hebrew bible.

Unfortunately, for nearly four years the U.S. government has operated in flagrant disregard of that commandment, visiting a reign of terror on 11 million families who seek only to live peacefully and productively in their adopted country.

We are all dragged into this regime of discrimination and deportations.  We depend on immigrant labor but refuse to grant enough visas.  Worse, we then pretend that we bear no responsibility for the presence of undocumented workers among us.

I can no longer take refuge in the self-deception that blinds us to the terrible injustices perpetrated by our government.  We need fundamental reform of our immigration system.  Until it is enacted I will feel obligated to interfere with the “normal” life that is built on this hypocrisy and these injustices.

We can do better.  My small act of civil disobedience is a call to all of us to rediscover our humanity and welcome the stranger among us, as we are commanded.


immigration group photo 1

In photo (left to right):
Maria Medina, Sidney Hollander,
Rebecca Katz, Peggy Slater.

Participants in the civil disobedience on behalf of JCUA include: Peggy Slater (JCUA Board President), Sidney Hollander (JCUA Board), Maria Medina (Chair of JCUA’s Immigrant Justice Action Team), and Rebecca Katz (JCUA’s Director of Teen Programs).

Other Jewish community leaders attending the rally include: Rabbi Fredrick Reeves (KAM Isiah Israel), Rabbi David Russo (Anshe Emet), Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation), Kalman Resnick (immigration attorney and JCUA lay leader), and students from Chicagoland Jewish High School.

(Guest Post) Are There “Boy Holidays” and “Girl Holidays”? A Reflection on Diversity.

October 24, 2013

by Rachel Patterson

Rachel is a student at Loyola University Chicago, and alumna of JCUA’s Or Tzedek program and serves as a counselor in Or Tzedek’s summer and year-round programs. This article originally appeared in Loyola’s Broad Magazine.

Rachel Patterson

Rachel Patterson

When I was five years old, I shared with my friend the concept of girl holidays and boy holidays. It was strange to me that she was unaware on this concept. Hanukah and Passover were girl holidays, while Christmas and Easter were obviously boy holidays. It was simple – My mom and I celebrated Hanukah and Passover while my dad and my brother celebrated Christmas and Easter.

Once my parents stopped laughing at my generalization, they wondered how to correct my assumptions.

In reality, my mom and I are both Jewish and my dad and my brother are Baptist, which explains the difference in celebration rituals. That hadn’t occurred to me at five. I just knew there were traditions my dad and my brother had, while there are others that my mom and I shared. I was as excited to see a tree in our house without presents under it for me, as I was to light the menorah with my mom for eight nights. There was no “dual dilemma” as interfaith households are often described to have.

Children have the unique ability to process information as they come across it, whether they are taught the information or not. I was not adhering to gender norms, nor was I concerned with stereotypes that are too often used to describe followers of the Jewish and Christian faiths. I was never taught those things. I was simply describing something I was witnessing without malice and without indifference.

QUOTE 1Boy holidays. Girl holidays. There is beauty in that description. It is not always beautiful to see differences as black and white or night and day. There are in fact nuances that I was not aware of as a five year old. However, it is beautiful to accept people for who they are. Innocence is not always ignorance.

My mom and dad decided to raise me Jewish. My mom always knew she would have a little girl named Rachel. In the Jewish faith, children take the religion of the mother so I would be born Jewish but every family has to make the decision to raise or not to raise their child with religion in his or her life.

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We Sure Gave it to Them! – Rabbinic Commentary on Justice

August 14, 2013

Commentary on Parashat Shoftim

Editor’s note: This past Shabbat, the new rabbi at my congregation, Rabbi Annie Tucker, spoke about “Shoftim,” the Torah portion that contains the strong call to action on which much of JCUA’s work is based. Read on for an inspiring look at the decapitated calf, and other Torah lessons.

– Judy Levey, JCUA Executive Director

By Rabbi Annie Tucker
Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah
Wilmette, Ill.

Rabbi Annie Tucker, Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah

Rabbi Tucker

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff tells the story of his own rabbi, Arnold Wolf, of blessed memory, who as a young preacher in an urban synagogue had a congregant who was a notorious slumlord.

One Shabbat, Rabbi Wolf decided that he had no choice but to finally address the issue and delivered a powerful sermon denouncing economic injustice and the cruelty of allowing other human beings to live in substandard conditions, doing everything short of actually naming the man out loud. When services concluded, Rabbi Wolf was a bit anxious as he saw his congregant coming to approach him at the kiddush table (where a light meal was being served). “Boy, Rabbi,” he said with a smile. “We sure gave it to them this morning!”

If we are being honest, we can perhaps see a bit of ourselves in the character of the clueless congregant. It is difficult, indeed, to recognize and acknowledge our personal shortcomings and areas of responsibility in this world. As much as we may wish for our spiritual or political leaders to be voices of conscience, we may also feel uncomfortable or threatened when we see that they are talking to us rather than chastising them. Rabbi Gutoff writes, “Call attention to slavery in North Africa, to child labor in China, to anti-Semitism in the Former Soviet Union…and you will be congratulated. But present people with a problem in their own camp, and that’s a different story.” We may feel more defensive about injustices that play out closer to home because we understand that we have more of an obligation to make them right. We also, of course, have far greater opportunity to do so.

Justice, justice shall you pursue

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – we read in the Torah portion called Parashat Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9), “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” So important is Judaism’s commitment to right living that our Bible, normally laconic and sparing of words, repeats itself twice, sparking commentators to imagine that each instance of the word “tzedek” must have independent meaning.

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Guest Op-Ed: Guns are Not Toys

April 23, 2013

The following is an op-ed piece by Sophie Leff, a junior at Northside College Prep. Sophie did Or Tzedek’s Activism and Community Organizing  summer program in 2011 and Advanced Activism in 2012. She was a part of the leadership team who planned Or Tzedek’s first Winter Leadership Retreat in 2011. Sophie is currently the Social Action Vice President of Beth Emet Synagogue Senior Youth. In this op-ed, she writes, “There are times when I have to wonder how many young people my age will actually live to be the age where they can say they were born and raised here in Chicago.”

Guns are not toys. This, I think, we can all agree on. I would venture a guess that even those who don’t believe in stricter gun control laws accept that guns can be dangerous and should be used with care, and most importantly kept away from children.

558805_10200852641788494_581075161_n Imagine my surprise when, the other night, I stopped in my local Mexican restaurant to pick up a burrito and was met with a 50 cent machine dispensing very realistic-looking, if less than life-size, “Guns n’ Grenades” key chains. For the low price of half a dollar, you too, can arm your son or daughter with a training weapon.

One of the reasons I was so shocked was that it seems so obvious. Giving a child a toy gun will not teach them how serious and dangerous such weapons are. It will not teach them to avoid guns for their own safety. It will not teach them to approach guns, if they ever must, with a strong sense of responsibility.

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[Guest Post] Turn a Tragedy into a Victory for Justice

February 22, 2013

In May 2008, federal immigration agents raided the small town of Postville, IA – separating families and devastating a community. JCUA responded immediately (see photos), and worked with the Postville community in the years following the raid (read article). Nearly 5 years after the raid, JCUA’s partners in Iowa are calling for comprehensive immigration reform with renewed hope and urgency. 

by Sr. Mary McCauley, BVM
Dubuque, Iowa

Soon we will commemorate the Fifth Anniversary of the 2008 Immigration Raid in Postville, Iowa.  Having been in Postville at that time, I still carry with me the suffering of the people.

JCUA members protesting in Postville (July, 2008)

JCUA members, Postville – July, 2008 (more photos)

I recall the small girl with a scrap of paper in her hand crawling up the steps into the sanctuary and handing her paper to our Hispanic Minister with words that were clear and direct.  “Please bring my daddy home!”

I recall the women walking the streets of Postville with mandated GPS devices on their ankles.  During our walks and prayer vigils they held their heads high and carried signs that read:  “We are not criminals.  We came to work.  We came to feed our families.  We are mothers.”

I recall the words of Rigoberto Menchu, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Guatemala, who visited with those affected by the raid:  “I see the problem of Postville as full of injustices.  You should not rest until justice is done….”

The people, the memories, the pain, the injustices and the words of Menchu continue to haunt me.  I cannot rest until justice is done.

Five years ago a tragedy took place in Iowa.  Iowans responded with compassion, sensitivity and justice. Today there is another opportunity for Iowans to respond.  May we unite with one another and support legislation for comprehensive immigration reform.    May we turn the tragedy of Postville into a victory for justice.   May we not rest until justice is done!

Mary McCauley, BVM
Dubuque, Iowa 52003

Guest Op Ed: Work Ethic Only Part of Success

October 15, 2012

The following op-ed is by Bradley Faskowitz, a senior at Capistrano Valley High School in California. Bradley participated in Or Tzedek’s Activism and Community Organizing program in summer 2012. The following was originally posted on Bradley’s Facebook page.


Bradley and Miranda on Or Tzedek

Today I saw something that makes me livid. There was a bumper sticker that said “Don’t share my money, share my work ethic.” This is obviously a Republican bumper sticker, and although I lean left, I am not offended by the republican rhetoric. The right has valid reasoning for its policies. What I am offended by is the inaccurate presumption that others do not work as hard as you.

Although you can perhaps be one of the hardest workers out there, do NOT call out another’s work ethic. This past summer, I met DREAMers in Chicago who were some of the hardest working teens, and people for that matter, that I have ever seen in my life.

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