Teen Activist Reflects on Or Tzedek Retreat

Emily Isaacson wrote this reflection based on her experience at Or Tzedek’s first annual Winter Leadership Retreat.

Providing the Tools for Change: Or Tzedek’s Winter Leadership Retreat

By Emily Isaacson
Or Tzedek participant, Winter 2011

Leadership Retreat participants

Leadership Retreat participants Meirav (from left), Emily and Rachel hanging out in the city.

Many people observe problems that plague today’s world.  But it takes a special kind of commitment to not only take a stand, but also choose to search deeper under the surface-to discover the depth of an issue and advocate for changing  root of a problem.

Or Tzedek has provided Jewish teens like me a unique opportunity to observe and begin to truly understand the corruption in our world. With this understanding, the program provides the tools to begin to make the changes we wish to see in the world today.

Or Tzedek, traditionally a week-long summer program, just hosted its first-ever winter retreat. As a participant in the three-day winter Or Tzedek program were extremely eye opening.

Along with feelings of frustration and helplessness came the satisfaction and hope I yearned for. When the participants first met, many of us did not know each other. However, within even the first hour, I felt a special connection with these people with whom I was sharing this experience.

Over the course of the three days, we explored a number of pressing issues, including authority in societies, the economic crisis and the effect it has on our generation, injustices found in the south side of Chicago, the rights of undocumented immigrant, and many more.

From the discussions and workshops on these issues, I saw determination and drive to seek change and take action not only in myself, but also in my friends and peers. That brought me hope, knowing that there are people out there who want this world to be a better place and who want to be the ones to make the change.

I was connected most strongly to the issues associated with undocumented immigrants. After having the opportunity to speak with undocumented immigrants and hear their stories, and then attend a vigil at the Broadview Detention Center and share prayers each of us had wrote, I felt an emotional connection to some of the injustices I saw. Before Or Tzedek, I had never truly taken the time to deconstruct the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants.

Because I had the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from immigrants, I have a new level of dissatisfaction towards the way our government and society treats people. I still don’t fully understand how I feel, or know how I should react to the complicated web of issues surrounding undocumented immigrant rights, deportation, and citizenship; however, I now I have set of tools and resources to dive deeper into these issues.

The vigil we attended at the Broadview Detention Center had a great impact on me from a religious perspective. Until then, I had a closed mind, believing that the experience of hearing Christian prayer would be uncomfortable. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least; attending the vigil was extremely eye-opening.

To see religion bring people together and bring about change was incredibly inspiring and gave me a new outlook on people and religion as a whole.

Or Tzedek is an inspiring program undertaking work that is community and world changing.  The program gives power to my generation, the next generation, and provides a priceless experience that has changed many teens. I know it has changed me.

Read more posts by Or Tzedek participants Sophie Leff and Doug Lavey.

One Response to Teen Activist Reflects on Or Tzedek Retreat

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