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