This summer, teens from across Chicagoland and the country will participate in Or Tzedek. Below, Ellory Wolin reflects on the two transformational summers she spent with Or Tzedek, and why you should join this summer.
By Ellory Wolin
Or Tzedek alum
In the summer of 2012, after finishing my freshman year of high school, I participated in JCUA’s week-long Or Tzedek program. Three years later, I am preparing to go to college. So two weeks ago, I went through my desk, a historical archive of the past four years of high school — messy, like most history. The bottom drawer was organized chaos. Algebra tests, graded essays about “The Odyssey,” and five times the amount of papers from junior year than any other year, were stacked like sedimentary rock. The pile laid in the bottom left corner of the drawer, leaving a border of free space in which a blue scientific journal resided. On its cover, in one of my former styles of penmanship, it read “ELLORY WOLIN- OR TZEDEK 2012.”
The journal contained a poem I wrote after attending an interfaith vigil held monthly by two sisters from the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition at the Broadview Detention Center. I watched undocumented individuals get put on a bus to the airport for deportation, shackled as if they were murderers. As the bus pulled away, I watched a toddler. Her face was distorted with confusion, feeling her mom’s tears smacking the ground below her. In my poem, I questioned.
My questions never ceased. During that first summer, I was overwhelmed with frustration and hopelessness, encouragement and hopefulness. I did not know where to begin. So I began by looking around me, and I found encouragement and hopefulness. Surrounded by like-minded, justice-minded individuals, I was encouraged to learn and act, and in that, I found hope. Then, after looking outward to those who share my passion and provided me with the information to have a vision, I returned to Or Tzedek with a developed ability to look inward, as well.
Nevertheless, I was still without answers nor resolution. So, when I returned to Or Tzedek last summer for its 2-week Advanced Activism program, I was seeking perhaps a context that could make the realities I witnessed believable. It was during this second summer with Or Tzedek that I realized the answers would never come and irresolution would prove vital.
The leader of Or Tzedek at the time, Rebecca Katz, informed us that immigration justice was HER issue. While she was passionate about seeking justice for all people, issues of immigration justice are the ones that “wake me up in the middle of the night, furious.”
During the second week of the program last summer, our group went to the beach after a long day at our respective internships. Throughout the program, we had been developing our skills in meetings known as “one-on-ones.” Basically, they are to say, “This is me. Here’s what I want to see happen in this world, this is why, and I’d like to see if you’re interested in helping me make that happen.” So on the beach, I dug my hands into the sand–discovering granules that were still with me days later — and listened to my peer’s story. He listened to mine, which goes a little something like this:
The year before, someone in my family had experienced rape. Three days before, I stood at an “L” stop in Rogers Park looking to register voters, and throughout my three and a half hours there, 16 men approached me interested in everything about me but what I was saying. Two days prior, I had received a phone call from another family member struggling to navigate through America’s patriarchal justice system.
With sand under my fingernails and a journal in front of me, similar to the one I was given when I first participated in Or Tzedek and found in my drawer a few weeks ago, I realized what MY issue is. I had been woken up in the middle of the night, and continue to be. The scientific journals were fitting — just as science is driven by questioning, so too is justice. But while science questions in order to understand what is natural, I refuse to believe that my questioning of injustice does the same. Through JCUA’s Or Tzedek, I have realized what it means to look both outward and inward in order to create change. JCUA has shown me that while irresolution can be discouraging, it wakes us up in the middle of the night, drives our questions, and ensures there will always be individuals tipping the scales even just one little bit toward justice.