Interfaith Tashlich Ceremony Strengthens Committment of Jewish and Immigrant Teens to Social Justice Issues

Or Tzedek Interfaith Tashlich 2010

By Leah Roth-Howe
Former Coordinator of Teen Programs, JCUA

We cannot cast away anything unless we identify it, unless we struggle with it. Consider this a powerful metaphor that calls us to constant self-evaluation and collective action.

As sunshine poured down last Sunday, Sept. 19, we came together at Hyde Park’s beautiful Promontory Point to celebrate Or Tzedek’s first interfaith Tashlich ceremony with members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.

Teens from Or Tzedek and the Immigrant Youth Justice League plan joint social justice project

Surrounded by crashing waves and autumn leaves, we reflected on the past year, sang songs, casted away parts of ourselves that no longer serve us or bring out the best in our community, and engaged in our interfaith educational art project on immigration.

Just as trees shed their leaves as the seasons change, we took this opportunity to shed negative emotions, prejudices, stereotypes and jealousies that no longer serve us.

Recognizing the importance of  “letting go” of the unneeded parts of ourselves and the patterns that no longer help us live sustainable and meaningful lives in connection to others, we recognized how we are connected to each other through our intentions, emotions, and actions.

For many Jews, Tashlich is an opportunity to step back from our busy lives and consider what kind of person and community member we want to be in the coming year.

Teens find deeper connection to social justice during Tashlich ceremony

After quiet moments of reflection, we threw stones into Lake Michigan to symbolize all we wanted to “cast off” in order to recommit ourselves to our priorities for the coming year.

We recognized the importance in taking care of ourselves in order to have the energy and determination to fully engage in meaningful work with the larger community.

We casted away stones to celebrate and honor our own personal growth and development as a necessary step in affecting social change and positive development in our society, and to affirm causes we want to recommit ourselves to this year.

Similarly, we considered the casting off ritual as a physical action that prepares us to take social action within our communities throughout the year.

After reflecting on our personal actions and intentions for the coming year, we recommitted ourselves to engaging with the larger community, working to cast away societal prejudices and inequalities, and finding the energy to work collaboratively towards common social justice goals.

As we recited our societal casting away ceremony, participants discussed not only what we want to cast off as a society, but also who our society continues to cast off, marginalize and silence.

We considered who our society casts off, such as undocumented immigrants, and made a commitment, as a Jewish community, to raise awareness, educate, mobilize, affect change, and collaborate with local communities so nobody is cast off in the coming year.

We closed with a quote from Amos 5:24, that reconnected us to the purity of water and reaffirmed our constant commitment to social justice: “let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Recitations of Societal Transgressions:

We cast away:

Acceptance of communities where hatred grows
Tolerance of racial inequalities
Silence over the 1100 people deported daily

We take on:

Demanding that all humans are treated with pride and dignity
Committing ourselves to repairing our broken immigration system

We cast away:

Acceptance of substandard work conditions
Tolerance of unaffordable rents
Silence over inadequate, insecure dwellings

We take on:

Creating safe, humane living conditions for every person in this city
Committing ourselves to repairing the relationship between law enforcement and civilians

We cast away:

Acceptance of brutality
Tolerance of the persecution of immigrants
Silence over racism and violence in the name of “freedom”

We take on:

Bearing witness and raising our voices until the city is welcoming to all by standards we define
Committing ourselves to working in collaboration with immigrant communities towards a just society where educational opportunities are accessible to all

We cast away:

Acceptance of labor exploitation and impermanence
Tolerance of unsafe conditions
Silence over workers’ lack of choice and control

We take on:

Fighting for jobs that pay a living wage,  uphold dignity and offer opportunity
Together we cast away our despair
Together we commit to action

Together we will listen to the stories of our neighbors and acknowledge the peace and humanity within each other

Together we will right the balance of our sanctuary city, and fight for comprehensive immigration reform that is founded in racial tolerance, equality, and access to higher education for all

Sharing this meaningful Jewish ceremony with members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League created a unique opportunity for cross-cultural reflection and interfaith collaboration towards our common fight for immigration reform.

As we reflected on the past year and ushered in the New Year, we began envisioning our collective year-round art project that seeks to educate the public on the issue of deportations, humanize immigrant stories, and provide a platform where voices can be heard, and declarations of action can be expressed.

Our joint project is based on the power of personal narratives, and provides creative platforms where voices can be heard, messages disseminated, and the collective power to affect change increased.

While storytelling and empowering voices is essential, it is simultaneously imperative to provide safe spaces to listen and validate each other’s stories and life experiences.

It is no small act to listen, bear witness and stand in solidarity as allies. Bearing witness is essential, but it must be followed by action.

As we envisioned how our collaborative work can raise awareness of our broken immigration system, counter negative stereotypes of immigrants, and fight the destructive nature of deportations, we focused our efforts not on loss and the destructive elements of our current immigration policies, but on creation .

Together, members of IYJL and Or Tzedek began creating a mural that seeks to encompass our individual beliefs and commitments on how we will combat the oppressions of our broken immigration system as a collective.

Beginnings of Or Tzedek/IYJL mural

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