On December 2, You Can Help Or Tzedek Change Lives

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
donation.
» 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.

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