On December 2, You Can Help Or Tzedek Change Lives

December 2, 2014

Black Friday…Cyber Monday…

On #GivingTuesday (Dec. 2), JCUA is asking for your support of Or Tzedek, our teen social justice program. Today’s guest blogger shares his life-changing experiences with this unique program. Your donations will help fund scholarships for Or Tzedek. Gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000.

Sam Hamer today and in 2009 when he attended a rally with JCUA in support of hotel workers.

By Sam Hamer
Or Tzedek Alum

What does it mean to be a “stranger in a strange land”? It’s not a question that most Jewish teens ask themselves.

I certainly wasn’t any different. As someone who was raised in a household in which my parents sent me to Reform summer camp and preached liberal Jewish values, I thought I had tikkun olam all figured out. So going into Or Tzedek, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual—clean up a park, talk some Talmud, call it a day. But what transpired over those two weeks brought my Judaism and my activism together in a way that forced me to consider more deeply than ever before my values and beliefs.

How do you treat a “stranger in a strange land”? Demonstrating for the rights of immigrant workers in downtown Chicago—some my own Edgewater neighbors, it turns out—forced me to confront this biblical query in the most immediate of ways. On trips to Little Village and Austin and Englewood (would I ever have entered these neighborhoods otherwise?) I had the opportunity to engage with and dedicate myself to people for whom the triumph of justice over injustice is more than just an aspiration: it is the difference between sufficiency and hunger, or health and illness, or even between life and death.

» Help make it possible for a teenage to attend Or Tzedek. Make a #GivingTuesday
» Learn more about the 2015 Or Tzedek summer program.

I will for the rest of my life value my time as a part of Or Tzedek, not only because it opened my eyes to some of the greatest challenges of 21st-century urban America, but also because it prompted me to ask fundamental questions about what Judaism means. Sure, Judaism is prayer and tradition and good food. But after two weeks of Or Tzedek, I discovered that my Judaism had evolved into something more. My Judaism was no longer just an “is” but a “does”; a verb rooted in the pursuit of justice that we have an obligation to our community and our faith to realize. Tzedek tzedek tirdof [“Justice, justice shall you pursue”]—it turns out it’s in the same text as shema and kashrut and rugelach (sort of).

As a Jewish teen with an open mind, a heart for activism, and a curiosity to engage with deep questions of what Judaism is (and does) in the 21st century, I like to think that I became a little more of a mensch after my summer in Or Tzedek. But don’t take my word for it. Experience Or Tzedek for yourself. Just be forewarned: it may change your life.

Sam is a 2007 Or Tzedek alumnus and proud Jewish Chicagoan, having attended Chicago Public Schools for 13 years before studying at Yale University and graduating in 2014. He currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Studies with a focus in welfare policy.

#GivingTuesday: Igniting a Spark Within Jewish Teens

November 18, 2014

By Deborah Goldberg
Coordinator of Teen Programs

Deborah Goldberg

I have the best job in the whole world. As the coordinator of teen programs at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, I get to do what I love—my job is to engage teens in social justice work within a Jewish context. On my first day of work at JCUA, Rebecca, who held this job before me, shared with me the history of Or Tzedek. I was simultaneously awed by our past and excited for our future.

JCUA wants to reach teens in as many ways as possible. Since its inception in 2007, Or Tzedek has run a summer program that has reached hundreds of teens. (Registration is now open for our summer 2015 sessions!)

Last year, Or Tzedek partnered with Evanston’s Beth Emet the Free Synagogue to launch Or Tzedek: Year of Action. Nearly 50 teens came together for the year to learn about root causes of social injustice in Chicago and then participated in a gun violence prevention campaign, advocating for an amendment to the Concealed Carry Act that would ban guns in houses of worship.

Next February, Or Tzedek will partner with Chicagoland Jewish High School to run a three-day activism and advocacy retreat for its junior class. The 40 students of CJHS’s junior class will have an extraordinary opportunity to learn from JCUA’s community partners, connect social justice issues to Jewish values and history, and meet with state and federal representatives to advocate for issues they care about.

Support Or Tzedek on Giving Tuesday

This Dec. 2, JCUA will participate in Giving Tuesday, a global movement dedicated to giving back. This upcoming Giving Tuesday, JCUA is raising funds for scholarship dollars to make Or Tzedek accessible to all teens. Our fundraising goal is $5,000 and we’re thrilled that a generous donor has agreed to match all scholarship donations dollar for dollar until we reach our $5,000 goal.

When I think about Or Tzedek, I think about the incredible teens I get to work with. “Or Tzedek” means “Light of Justice,” and I know that the work our teens engage in helps make the world a more just place. I also know that Or Tzedek ignites a spark within Jewish teens, and whether they go on to be leaders in their youth groups and high schools, community organizers and activists, or precinct committeeman (Or Tzedek alumni have done all of those things!), they leave the program as different people than the ones who entered it.

I want every teen to have that opportunity. 

You don’t have to wait until “Giving Tuesday” to support Or Tzedek—make a donation today.


Support Or Tzedek on #GivingTuesday

November 5, 2014


By Pamela Klier-Weidner
Director of Development and Organizational Advancement

I’ll never forget the first moment I realized the impact of JCUA’s Or Tzedek summer program on our Jewish teens. I was in front of my computer in a spreadsheet nightmare when a flurry of teens marched through the JCUA office.  Their energy upstaged whatever it was I was doing.

Pamela Klier-Weidner

For each of my six summers at JCUA, I’ve waited with excitement for these teens to trump whatever work I’m ensconced in.

It’s not just the usual fun energy of teens that many of us “elders” enjoy being around.  It goes way deeper than that. Each year, I’ve witnessed these kids walk into Or Tzedek as just a teen, and finish the program as “just” teens. The positive impact of Or Tzedek will last a lifetime.

For the teens who didn’t already know it, they learn that they are already leaders and are capable of making positive change. They also learn that they have a Jewish responsibility to care about and address root causes of oppression.

Or Tzedek is a game-changer, a life-changer.

Joel Spiegel is only one of many Or Tzedek alums who prove the point. At 18 years old, Joel got elected as a precinct committeeman in Buffalo Grove and just got named one of 10 Jewish Chicagoans of the Year by the Chicago Jewish News. He credits it all to his Or Tzedek experience.

Don’t even get me started on Rachel Patterson, who emceed our 50th Anniversary celebration this year. Or Sam Hamer, who organized his entire high school to move their prom to a venue where workers were treated fairly. So many of these teens–and now, some young adults–give me more hope for our future.

So, this year, when we decided to hop on the #GivingTuesday wagon, Or Tzedek came to my mind immediately.

#GivingTuesday, Dec. 2nd,  is a global movement dedicated to giving back. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday.

While Or Tzedek has been a beloved and popular program since its 2007 inception, scholarship dollars will help JCUA make the program accessible to all teens.

Our #GivingTuesday fundraising goal is $5,000 and we’re delighted that a generous donor has agreed to match all scholarship donations dollar for dollar until we reach our $5,000 goal. 

Every amount makes double the difference. If you shop on Black Friday, and you’ve saved a coupla bucks, those prospective Or Tzedek teens could sure use that matched scholarship money.  There really isn’t any amount too small. If you’ve got change, make change for these teens.

You don’t have to wait until “Giving Tuesday” to support Or Tzedek.

Or Tzedek Teen Honored as a Jewish Chicagoan of the Year

November 4, 2014

Joel Spiegel listed in the Guide to Jewish Chicago

joel-spiegel-chicago-jewish-newsHe’s attended courtroom deportation hearings, participated in vigils for immigrant rights, been named Youth of the Year at his synagogue, successfully run for precinct committeeman in his town, worked to help Democrats win congressional seats.

And he’s only 18 years old.

Joel Spiegel, a recent graduate of Stevenson High School in Buffalo Grove, says he has been interested in social justice advocacy for as long as he can remember but never had an outlet for his passion.

That changed in 2012 when Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs came to speak at Spiegel’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, about Or Tzedek, JCUA’s summer teen activism program.

“With everything she was saying, I was nodding my head,” the well-spoken and enthusiastic Spiegel says.

Joel was listed as one of 10 Jewish Chicagoans of the Year in the Guide to Jewish Chicago, published recently by Chicago Jewish News.

» Read the complete profile of Joel, written by Pauline Yearwood

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Or Tzedek Registers 200 New Voters

July 24, 2014

10544405_557662764359148_6670906849490635176_nFor the second time in July, Or Tzedek and Jewish Student Connection joined ONE Northside’s Voter Registration campaign to register 5,000 people in Lakeview, Edgewater, Uptown and Rogers Park. Six Or Tzedek participants interned with ONE Northside during Advanced Activism and Or Tzedek youth have continued to work on the campaign throughout the summer. So far, Or Tzedek has registered almost 200 voters with ONE Northside!

Read the rest of this entry »


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