Jewish Teens to Mobilize 59th District Synagogues

March 13, 2014
photo 3 At Or Tzedek and Beth Emet’s latest Jewish organizing workshop, Mark Walsh and Camiella Williams from the Illinois Council against Handgun Violence shared both statistical and personally powerful arguments for gun violence prevention legislation.

Sixteen year old May Pat Hector, national youth director for National Action Network and founder of Youth in Action, spoke about her activism to mobilize youth to stand against gun violence in our country.
>>> To keep up with Or Tzedek and Beth Emet’s campaign, like us on Facebook!<<<
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Or Tzedek Participant, Joel Spiegel, Receives Youth of the Year Award from Beth Judea

February 28, 2014

1907817_10151985263673175_757371701_oJewish youth activist Joel Spiegel received the Youth of the Year Award from Congregation Beth Judea at the regional dinner sponsored by the Midwest region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

Joel has been a leader in Or Tzedek, participating in Or Tzedek’s “Activism and Community Organizing” in summer 2012 and “Advanced Activism” in summer 2013.  Joel is currently running for precinct committeeman in Buffalo Grove and is a senior at Stevenson High School.

In his acceptance speech, Joel named  Or Tzedek as one of his major influences, stating, ” I wouldn’t not be here today if it weren’t for Marc Sender, Joan Smith, and Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs continuing to push me to be the very best I can be.”

894446_10151985268193175_2060826368_oJoel has a gift for engaging people with a diversity of backgrounds and connecting across both similarities and differences. His genuine interest in people’s experiences allows them to open up and share their perspective.  He is truly a community builder.

Joel models the inclusive and supportive behavior necessary for a powerful community. He has the important, but too often rare, leadership quality of offering the support and guidance necessary for others to step out of their comfort zones and discover their own leadership capabilities.

Mazel Tov, Joel!

Jewish Youth Organizing for Gun Control

February 13, 2014
hannah, paulina, and jonahOr Tzedek and Beth Emet’s Jewish organizing  teen program chose by consensus to work on the campaign to ban guns in houses of worship, led by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence with JCUA , Fierce Women of Faith, and other community partners.

 >>>Read about the campaign here.<<<

From our action planning session, we decided that the target of our action plan will be 59th District State Rep. Carol Sente. With nineteen synagogues in her state congressional district, there is a great opportunity here to organize a strong Jewish voice for control legislation.
>>>Want to be a part of Or Tzedek? Learn more and register for Or Tzedek’s summer programs.<<<

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur time-bound goal will be to move Rep. Sente to vote for the gun control legislation.The tactics we will be using are canvassing (going door to door and engaging residents in her district) and planning a town hall meeting.

The next step will be to split into action teams, in charge of different components of the campaign from outreach and communications to planning actions and connecting with our community partners.

Additionally, it was smartly brought up at the retreat that, to become a powerful, united community, we needed a singular name for the Or Tzedek and Beth Emet Jewish organizing program. So we have decided on Or Emet, a combination of Or Tzedek and Beth Emet that means “light of truth” in Hebrew.

Or Tzedek and Beth Emet Youth Build Power and Community

February 6, 2014

As a part of Or Tzedek and Beth Emet’s joint Jewish organizing program, thirty-six teens came together over the weekend to learn about JCUA’s two social justice campaigns about gun violence and economic justice.  At this overnight retreat, the participants’ passion for creating change in their city and thoughtful approach to choosing a campaign demonstrated their power as a community of powerful Jewish youth. 

1604381_475068609264027_336993884_nWe hear stories of gun violence and poverty in the media and see food deserts and homelessness on the streets of our city. Over the course of Or Tzedek’s summer sessions, many of us have built relationships and acted in solidarity with Chicago’s directly impacted communities. Organizers, teens and religious leaders from different neighborhoods organizations, like Growing Home, Imagine Englewood If.., Fierce Women of Faith, Immigrant Youth Justice League, took the time to meet with us and teach us about their social justice work.

1555476_478157592288462_58978486_nLearning about systemic oppression and institutionalized racism during Or Tzedek, many of us can often feel powerless in the face of these entrenched systems of inequality. But this year long program is opportunity for us to act, as Jews, as Chicagoans, and as young people, for justice in our city. Choosing and working on one of JCUA’s critical campaigns over the next five months is the opportunity to make a real difference as joint, powerful community. Read the rest of this entry »

Or Tzedek Announces Expanded Summer Sessions

January 26, 2014
Or Tzedek Summer 2014

Get the word from Rebecca

Two weeks discovering yourself and your city.

Two weeks of changing your world!

July 27 through Aug. 10, 2014

June 15 through June 29, 2014

Early Bird Registration Discount

Register before March 1 and get 10% off tuition. Join the movement of young, powerful people committed to justice.


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Or Tzedek Hiring Summer Counselors

December 26, 2013

IMG_0945Or Tzedek is hiring its staff for summer 2014.  We are seeking  two junior and two senior counselors to staff our overnight Jewish teen social justice programs on June 15-29 and July 27-10.

Each session will have a team of six staff members: two junior counselors, two senior counselors, Or Tzedek program director and the rabbinical student fellow. We will be accepting applications on a rolling basis for the counselor positions. Compensation is competitive and commensurate with experience.

Learn more and apply online. 

If you have any questions, please contact Rebecca Katz, Director of Teen Programs, at rebecca@jcua,org or 312-663-0960, ext. 124.

Or Tzedek Summer Social Justice Program Expands to Two-Week Sessions

December 18, 2013


Deeper engagement in social justice campaigns with JCUA’s community partners — that’s the goal of doubling the length of JCUA’s Or Tzedek summer overnight teen programs.

Registration is open now for the new two-week sessions, created in response to feedback from past participants asking for a more immersive experience.

Summer 2014 Schedule

Advanced Activism
For returning participants and Year of Action/Chavaya participants
June 15-29, 2014

Activism and Community Organizing
For first-time participants
July 27-Aug. 10, 2014

register button

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Director of Teen Programs Speaks about Faith Informed Justice

December 11, 2013

Yesterday evening, Rebecca Katz, JCUA’s Director of Teen Programs, spoke at the 8th Day Center for Justice Young Adult Council and the Brother David Darst Center’s “Speaker Series: Faith Informed Justice.” Together with Jerica Arents, peace activist and educator, and Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator, the panel explored how their faith tradition shape their work for justice. Over forty people attended the event, held at the Darst Center.

Rebecca, Jerica, and Gerald at the panel.

Rebecca, Jerica, and Gerald at the panel.

During the panel, Gerald reflected on how his Muslim faith guides his activism work. Addressing how her spirituality shapes her justice work, Jerica described how she uses silence and reflection as a space to examine and combat internalized oppression.

During the Q&A session, many of the questions focused on the panelists’ experiences teaching youth about social injustices in Chicago. One audience member asked,” How do you help teens who are struggling with feelings of guilt?” Speaking from her experience with Or Tzedek, Rebecca answered that guilt is a natural, but unproductive emotion that often causes people to run away from social justice engagement.

As a strategy to move from guilt to (productive) responsibility, Rebecca explained the importance of teaching teens concrete activism and advocacy skills, like creating an action plan or identifying attainable goals. This training allows teens to break down a seemingly insurmountable oppression, like institutionalized racism, into a campaign focused on a specific issue, like gun violence in Chicago.

(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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Activism in August

August 15, 2013

By Eliana Fisher and Rachel Aaronson, Or Tzedek Interns and Alums

As our last Or Tzedek session of the summer has come to a close, we’d like to share with you some of the highlights of this amazing week. Our 11 incredible teens demonstrated immeasurable amounts of passion and enthusiasm as they learned about systemic oppression faced by Chicago’s diverse communities and  and tools for combating these injustices as leaders, activists, and allies.  Find out more about this wonderful experience through the photo essay below! Also, don’t forget to RSVP for the Or Tzedek Summer Reunion on Sunday, August 25, 2-5 pm.

ALECOr Tzedek teens, along with hundreds of fellow Chicagoans, stood up against The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobbyist group that has consistently pushed forward legislation that privileges corporations over people. ALEC have been responsible for discriminatory laws  that cut workers’ wages and benefits, and other controversial laws such as “Stand Your Ground.”

Emily and Julia at LVEJOOr Tzedek participants, Emily and Julia, bask in the fragrance and beauty of the fresh produce in one of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s community gardens. LVEJO led us on a tour of their neighborhood that highlighted both the vibrant community that they love and injustices that they are working to address. On the tour, we learned about the social justice issue of environmental racism, when low-income and/or communities of color disproportionately bear the hazardous consequence of environmental pollution.

Julia FWF 2Or Tzedek participant Julia stands in solidarity with Fierce Women of Faith (FWF), a group committed to combating our city’s epidemic of violence. On Thursday, August 8th, Or Tzedek participated in FWF’s prayer vigil, where they payed tribute to those slain by the violence in Chicago and spoke out against this continued cycle.

Kevin CovalKevin Coval, founder of “Louder than Bomb:The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival” and artistic director of the Young Chicago Authors, led a workshop with Or Tzedek on spoken word and the ways it is utilized as an tool for combating systemic oppression. The previous evening, at the start of the Brave New Voices Festival, Or Tzedek saw incredible spoken word artists, including Kevin Coval, address issues of violence and race through their poetry.

Leor at Saint SabinasLeor stands in front of St. Sabina Church’s memorial to community members who have been slain by gun violence. Assistant Pastor, Dr. Kimberly Lymore, gave Or Tzedek a tour of St. Sabina Church and the neighboring community. Pastor Lymore powerfully explained how St. Sabina was committed to pursuing justice  as an expression of faith in the larger Auburn Gresham neighborhood, not just inside the four walls of the church. Then, the youth and staff met with Pastor Marci Richards, founder of Fierce Women of Faith, an interfaith, multi-racial group working to bring radical peace to Chicago communities and families. Pastor Richards illuminated root causes of violence; particularly how the lack of resources and systemic oppression faced by a community can create impossible situations for individuals.

Milts BBQWhat could be better than good, Kosher food? How about a restaurant that donates all of its profits to charity! Or Tzedek teens enjoyed a delicious meal at Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed, where they learned about the owner, Jeff Aeder, and how he was able to combine his passions for food and social justice.

Mural 1Or Tzedek participants joined Imagine Englewood If… (IEI…) for the third time this summer! This session, this diverse group of teens pooled their artistic talents to create a beautiful mural featuring the words “INVEST IN ENGLEWOOD” over a school building. This mural is in support of IEI…’s new campaign to transform one of the closed Chicago Public School buildings in their neighborhood into a community center. CPS plans to close seven elementary schools in Englewood.

ShabbatOr Tzedek teens received a surprise when 8 out of the 10 Advanced Activism participants from earlier in the summer joined them for a lovely Shabbat dinner, followed by a fun evening filled with games and lively conversation. This evening provided an opportunity for the current participants to hear about the experiences of the Advanced Activism participants and further build a larger Or Tzedek community.

SmoresFollowing havdalah, the August session celebrated their last night on Or Tzedek with a bonfire and s’mores.


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