I Never Really Left Or Tzedek

November 2, 2016

By Sydney Bakal
2016 Or Tzedek Summer Participant

Sign up before Jan. 15, 2017 to receive the Early Bird Discount.
Let Sydney, one of last year’s teens, tell you why you should.

This summer I participated in JCUA’s Or Tzedek summer institute, a program for teenagers in high school who want to explore Chicago and social justice work through a Jewish lens. In 12 days, Or Tzedek taught me so much, and encouraged me to keep learning and questioning. I want to paint a picture of just one of our evenings together this session, because it really reflects the intentional community Or Tzedek seeks to build…

One evening sitting down at the dinner table with our homemade stir-fry, we began discussing theatre. I’m not exactly sure how we ended up on the topic, but I shared that my school had done a production of The Wiz, and none of the lead characters were people of color. I was uncomfortable because the show is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, reclaiming the American dream for people of color. Others shared that they too were uncomfortable; however, one individual said it would only be inappropriate if people of color were turned down for roles because the show was intended to create more lead characters who were people of color. Another individual said it would be a waste for such an amazing show to not be put on more often and that the music is for everyone. We debated and threw out many arguments, even talking about Fiddler on the Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank performed by non-Jews. We discussed the nuances, complexities, similarities, and differences. Even after dinner, our conversations followed us to the car and to bed.

Experiences like this one were so interesting because we got to speak our minds and hear others’ opinions judgement-free. I now have more tools and a better understanding of issues that I had never really gotten to talk about in the past.

I loved all of the different workshops we did throughout program. We expanded our understandings of privilege, oppression, police accountability, restorative justice, gun-violence prevention, community organizing and more. Most of all, I learned how to listen and how to have conversations about complex issues. Coming home I wanted to continue these conversations. I am currently planning a legislative activism program for my youth group, events to explore and learn about Englewood, and a workshop using theatre games to teach about power and community.

I feel that difficult issues are often put on the back-burner to maintain the comfort of the privileged. However, those who are oppressed must live the difficulties every day. We can only break down systems of oppression if we recognize that they exist. I never really left Or Tzedek; I try to question normative values and existing systems. I’m still having awkward and disquieting conversations, and I hope I can improve the systems of which I’m a part.

Shout Loudly and Don’t Hold Back

October 26, 2016

By Ben Halbig
JCUA Board Member

JCUA Board Member Ben Halbig gave this drash at Mishkan’s Yom Kippur morning services for the Isaiah Haftarah . As we move into this new year, Ben asks how can we do more? How can we make this year reflect “the fast God really wants?”

halbig_benjamin_color“Good morning. I’m Ben. I grew up on the East Coast, but Chicago has been my adopted home for the better part of the past decade – first as an undergrad in Hyde Park, and now as a practicing lawyer living in the Gold Coast. Mishkan has been my spiritual home in Chicago since I moved back after law school. As a Chicagoan and a Mishkanite, I am honored to be sharing a few thoughts on what we are about to read together.

This has been a rough year for Chicago.

Almost a year ago – just before Thanksgiving– a judge ordered the city to release a video showing a CPD officer emptying his 9 millimeter semi-automatic rifle into an unarmed high school student. The video of Laquan McDonald’s murder tore at the heart of the city.

I remember live-streaming the protests on Black Friday 2015 in my parents’ house in Maryland. You know what has stuck with me all these months? Not the thousands of young activists pleading for justice on Michigan Avenue but Channel 5’s interviews with angry shoppers whose plans for holiday bargains had been ruined by the march. “Why today?” “Why here?” “Why can’t they just protest in their own neighborhood?”

I wish I could stand here and tell you how I am not them, how I would have been with the protesters. But the truth is – I know in my heart of hearts, I am a shopper. I am an employed white man living on the North Side of Chicago. When I think and talk about violence in in our city, it’s something that happens to other people. I don’t know anyone who has been shot this year. I don’t fear for my life when stopped by police.

Isaiah’s words in the passage we read today can be disheartening in the middle of the day on Yom Kippur. He’s essentially telling us that, after about 18 hours of fasting, praying, and asking to be inscribed in the Book of Life, we are doing it wrong. This is not the fast God wants.

You’d think after all these years of reading Isaiah’s words, we might get it right. But his message seems to be really hard for us to hear. What makes it so hard to hear? Read the rest of this entry »

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