Meet Our Super Awesome Or Tzedek Summer Staff!

May 19, 2015

deborah-goldbergBy Deborah Goldberg
JCUA Manager of Teen Programs

I am so thrilled that Or Tzedek Summer 2015 is right around the corner!  My name is Deborah Goldberg and I am the Or Tzedek program coordinator.  I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and before working for JCUA, I worked as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. (I’m also the reigning treasure hunting champion of Washington University, I love puzzles and brainteasers, and I would live in Panera if they would let me.) I like to tell people that my job at JCUA is the best job in the world because I get to do what I love—engage teens in social justice work within a Jewish context, and have fun doing it!

Below, you can read more about the other staff members who will be joining the Or Tzedek team this summer!  They are experienced, passionate, talented people, and I am so happy they’ll be part of our community.

There are still spaces left for teens to be part of this transformational summer program!  Register here, or contact Deborah Goldberg, Coordinator of Teen Programs, at deborah@jcua.org or 312-663-0960 for more information.

Talia Barzel

Talia Barzel

“I am so excited to join Or Tzedek as a staff member this summer! As a mixed-race Chinese-American Jew, issues of racism, immigration, and labor justice motivate me both personally and professionally. I am equally passionate about study and mentoring youth.  I spent the last several years teaching Hebrew school in the Philadelphia area, designing justice-oriented Jewish curricula, and counseling teenagers of many backgrounds.”

Talia holds a B.A. in linguistics from the U of C and will begin a Master’s of Social Work at Columbia in the fall. She will be joining us for both sessions of Or Tzedek.

Sam Sawyer

Sam2

“I’m finishing up my final semester at the University of Vermont, where I majored in Global Studies and Spanish.  I’m originally from Minneapolis, and I participated in Or Tzedek as a teen and spent a summer interning for JCUA.  Or Tzedek inspired me to see how social justice issues are Jewish issues.

I am passionate about refugee and immigrant rights and how health disparities are related to racism and other systems of oppression.  I am excited to start my post-college life in Chicago and to inspire teens to fight injustice through a Jewish lens!”

Sam will be joining us for Session 1.

Emma Epstein

emma3

“I am so excited to be staffing Or Tzedek this summer!  When teens are exposed to new ideas and communities, it can be a transformative experience that shines light on new ways of thinking.

I want to infuse Or Tzedek with kavana, or intention, connecting our spirituality and faith to the values of creating a better world for all. This will be my first summer in the Midwest and I am ready to learn, grow and celebrate with you in Chicago!!”

Emma is a social work graduate student at the University of Chicago, and she will be joining us for Session 2.

Aryeh Bernstein

Aryeh-BernstinAryeh is hanging with Or Tzedek as our Jewish educational consultant. He is a Torah educator, culture integrator, and 5th-generation South Sider. He teaches for Mishkan Chicago and elsewhere, and co-founded the Northwoods Beit Midrash at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. In 2011, he independently released a hip-hop album called A Roomful of Ottomans.

“I can’t wait to get to work on the amazing task of translating, to the best of my ability, what Torah expects of us as responsible human beings and Jews in today’s metro Chicago, and have fun doing it!”




Why You Should ‘Just’ Eat on June 15

May 6, 2015

Max-WolodBy Max Wolod
‘Just’ Eat Event Committee Member and Guest Blogger

My name is Max Wolod and I am thrilled to be a small part of the planning committee for JCUA’s “Just Eat” event on June 15th. My sister Hannah is a JCUA employee and an all-around awesome person, and when she asked me a few months ago if I would like to be a part of said committee, I was leaning away from participating. Work for free? FEH!

Hannah approached me because of my professional background in bars and restaurants. If I’m being honest, and what better place than an online bio that will be read by maybe 3 people for honestly, she hoped to work me for my “cool people” industry contacts. BUT, when I learned more about JCUA and about the ‘Just’ Eat event itself, I made up my mind and decided to do what I could to help out.

It ended up being an easy choice. JCUA is a group of wholly devoted and soulful and interesting and altruistic people, doing incredibly important work with limited means, advocating for the RIGHT causes, helping make Chicago, the city I love and YOU love, a just place for all its people…my association with them, limited though it may be, has made me feel good. REALLY good. I don’t know about you, but the majority of my pursuits could hardly be considered worthwhile. So the opportunity to do something empirically good and soul-nourishing with food, easily the most important thing in both my personal and professional life…I’m a lucky guy. Read the rest of this entry »




Rabbi Jill Jacobs: A Leap of Faith

March 27, 2015

On a Just Path Logo

Editor’s Note: “On a Just Path” is a series of stories about former JCUA employees, where they are now and the impact JCUA had on them. Interviews were conducted and edited by Nathaniel Seeskin, AVODAH Organizing Fellow at JCUA.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Q. When were you at JCUA and what was your position?

A. I had the pleasure of working for JCUA from 2003 to the end of 2005 in the position of Director of Outreach and Education.

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. My role was to lead the Outreach and Education Department at a time when JCUA was exploring deliberate ways to reach out to the Jewish community. JCUA had a longstanding strength in working in low-income communities, but there was a renewed interest in organizing within the Jewish community. We had an incredible team of people who were and still are very dedicated to the Jewish community and social justice. Our work at JCUA at that time included:

  • Organizing the Jewish community to work with day laborers in Albany Park to create a day labor center, partnering with public housing tenants to stop the demolition of Cabrini-Green and raising concerns about the fates of tenants, and working to support hotel workers during the Congress Hotel strike. We built a strong social justice voice within the Jewish community in Chicago.
  • Running the Judaism and Urban Poverty (JUP) curriculum, one of JCUA’s hallmark programs at the time. We initiated the Nadiv Fellowship, through which dedicated young people in their twenties and early thirties studied Judaism and social justice and then taught the JUP curriculum to seventh graders in synagogues through Chicago and in the suburbs.
  • Creating the Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI) and partnering with the Chicago’s Muslim community on programs like ‘Iftar in the Sukkah’ and ‘Cafe Finjan’.
  • Running social justice trainings and public programming in synagogues and other venues. For instance, we held a full-day Jewish social justice learning event for over one hundred people at the Spertus Institute, and we developed a series of community organizing trainings for synagogue leaders.

Read the rest of this entry »


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