By Emily Isaacson
This summer I had the amazing opportunity to intern for JCUA and the Or Tzedek program. This program has become a home to me over the years: I first participated in Or Tzedek in the winter of 2011 and continued my involvement throughout high school, both during Or Tzedek summer programming and year long activities. It’s where I learned that my commitment to social justice and my Judaism were deeply connected. I learned all about Chicago, the deeply rooted injustice in the city, as well as the amazing organizing and activism taking place. My understanding of concepts like allyship, privilege, one-on-ones, and systemic oppression are thanks to Or Tzedek.
As a summer intern, I got to see how this program has grown over the years. I got to know the JCUA staff and learned all about the day to day work JCUA does, organizing around campaigns for a fair Illinois budget and a solution to the trauma care desert on the South Side of Chicago. And, I realized the full magnitude of the behind-the-scenes work necessary to make Or Tzedek a success: from Costco runs and meal planning to the effort it takes to create meaningful programs and discussions around topics like root causes of oppression or introduction to community organizing. I thank the program for my own grounding in social justice, and so I have loved every minute of helping teach these same concepts to current high schoolers. In fact, being with the program and helping teens navigate complex issues of race, class, and oppression has been an opportunity for me to continue to explore these issues and how they play out in Chicago.
Spending time with the Or Tzedek participants this summer has been a real reminder of how much Or Tzedek taught me and how lucky I am to have been a part of the program. As I’m returning to school this week, I’m thinking about how I take these community organizing skills and social justice concepts that we talk about during Or Tzedek back to Oberlin College with me, and integrate them into everyday life. I’m thinking about the Or Tzedek Jewish community as I’m returning to my Jewish community at school, and about how to make it a more meaningful space that connects Judaism with social justice.
Or Tzedek is a space to create a meaningful Jewish community. It has reminded me how hard, and at the same time rewarding, a thoughtful, pluralistic Jewish space can be. This program was and is such an important part of my life, and to continue to participate as an intern was truly a meaningful experience.