Peoplehood, Universalism and Particularism: The tension that keeps it all together
By Ari Hart
Former Or Tzedek Staffer
During a steamy Chicago August a few years back, I led a summer program called Or Tzedek that brought Jewish high schoolers to Chicago neighborhoods. Our goal was to explore Judaism and social justice. On the second day of the trip, I brought my students to Chicago’s predominantly African-American South-West Side. Our project for the day was knocking on doors and distributing leaflets to people in the neighborhood about prenatal health opportunities available to pregnant women.
On the van-ride down, some personal doubts emerged. “Why am I bringing these kids to this neighborhood? We’re about to engage with an area and an issue that seem far removed from the Jewish People’s agenda,” I thought. “Is this really Jewish service?” The tension between universal social needs and personal and communal Jewish goals felt almost too much for the program to bear.
These doubts lingered as our community partners described the health campaign. I deeply believed in the value of the project, but still I didn’t see how the Jewish People had anything to do with it. I felt that perhaps as the Director, I had strayed too far towards universalism and neglected the Jewishness of the program. Once we hit the streets however, my thoughts began to change.
Ari Hart is the Co-Founder of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice and a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He is an associate of the Jewish Peoplehood Hub.