JCUA Newsletter – February 2015

February 11, 2015

In the February 2015 issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • JCUA congratulates Arise Chicago and Golan’s workers for winning their strike and first union contract.
  • RSVP to join JCUA and other members of the Trauma Center Coalition for an Interfaith Vigil.
  • Register now for JCUA’s 2015 Passover Seder – Getting to the Promised Land.
  • JCore Member Meeting – Wednesday, February 18.
  • Sign up for Or Tzedek 2015 summer sessions.
  • Save the Date for JCUA’s first progressive dinner – ‘Just Eat’ – on June 15.
  • Rabbi Ari Hart reflects on his work with JCUA.

Read it now


Rabbi Ari Hart: Planting the Seeds

February 3, 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 Ari Hart

Rabbi Ari Hart

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. I was the Founding Director of Or Tzedek, JCUA’s teen social justice program, in 2006​.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. I loved working at JCUA. JCUA is not afraid to ask the tough questions about what goes on in Chicago, not afraid to take action. It was one of the most meaningful opportunities for me to pursue real social justice work in a Jewish context.

Q. What impact did your work at JCUA have on the community?

A. My work planted the seeds of social justice in teens, exposed them to dimensions of their city that they had never seen before, and connected very diverse groups (teens in Englewood and Highland Park) over justice work. One of the most rewarding things is seeing Or Tzedek participants who were 14, 15 years old now launching careers as justice activists, doing amazing work in the world.​

Q. How did your experience at JCUA impact what you do now? 

A. My experience at JCUA taught me about the power of deep relationships, long term activism, how to truly stand in solidarity with communities. The concept of interstitiality has always stayed with me. I think about our role as both an oppressed and empowered community all the time, and what that means for today and for our future.


Rabbi Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization dedicated to combating suffering and oppression. Ari currently serves as Associate Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and as Director of Admissions for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Ari learned at Yeshivat HaKotel, Machon Pardes, and graduated from Grinnell College in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition.


Or Tzedek Alum Rose Johnson Reflects on MLK Day Interfaith Event

January 27, 2015
Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

In honor of MLK Day, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teens from across Chicago joined together to honor Dr. King’s dream for a better world by discussing interfaith solidarity. The interfaith event was sponsored by JCUA, St. Viator High School, and The Children of Abraham Coalition, and hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago (CAIR-Chicago).  Below is a reflection from one of the Or Tzedek teens who participated in the event.

Originally I had planned on going to the teen interfaith event on MLK day so I could see my friend who was also going. But what transpired at the event really got me thinking about what it takes to bring peace to the world.

I should say, first of all, that the event was really fun. I got to talk to friends, both old and new, about interesting topics and hand out flyers that helped to spread the message of peace and equality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard for. In the discussions, both before and after we passed out flyers, I learned a lot about other people, other people’s religions, and what it takes to bring a group of people that have differing opinions to a place of mutual respect and peace.

At the beginning of the event we broke up into small groups. My small group contained an anime enthusiast who went to a Catholic school, the father of a Catholic school student, a Muslim who worked with low income families to make sure they got the resources available to them, and me. It wouldn’t appear at first glance that any of us had much in common other than the fact that we all wanted to be at an interfaith event, but once we got to talking I found reasons to respect each person and each religion represented in my group. Among questions about what our favorite movies were and what our favorite foods are were questions about misconceptions about our religions, questions about who our religious heroes were, and questions about what we’ve learned from our religions. Turns out we all had a lot in common.

It says in the Talmud Yerushalmi: “They sustain the poor Gentiles and the poor of Israel, and visit the Gentile sick and the Israelite sick and bury the Gentile dead and the Israelite dead and comfort the Gentile mourner and the Israelite mourner and wash the clothes of Gentiles and the clothes of Israel due to the ways of peace.” This quote for me is problematic in its wording, yet also really meaningful. While I don’t believe we as Jews should separate ourselves into Jews and Gentiles, I believe that if we dig deeper into the quote it shows the Talmud firmly establishes that, while we are decided along lines of color, age and religion, we must harbor deep respect for and help everyone. The quote even goes so far as to say that we must wash the clothes of the Jew and the Gentile. And all this to build a peace that will last because everyone is contributing to it.

This event showed me that real life empathy building can create respectful environments in which tough conversations can be had and introduced me to relationships with new people, organizations and ideas that I hope to expand upon in the future.

Rose is a 2014 Or Tzedek alum. She currently attends Chicagoland Jewish High School where she is a Junior. Rose is on the board of her synagogue youth group, BESSY. Along with two of her good friends, she also helps run the GSA, which is called Gavah, meaning Pride.


JCUA January 2015 Newsletter

January 14, 2015

In the January 2015 issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • Join JCUA in 2015 to learn more about our two new organizing campaigns.
  • RSVP for JCUA’s first member meeting of 2015 on Jan. 21.
  • Or Tzedek Summer 2015 registration is open.
  • What are you doing on MLK day weekend?
  • Guest blog post on immigration reform.
  • Save the date for JCUA’s 2015 Passover Seder on March 19.

Read it now


On December 2, You Can Help Or Tzedek Change Lives

December 2, 2014

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.


#GivingTuesday: Igniting a Spark Within Jewish Teens

November 18, 2014

By Deborah Goldberg
Coordinator of Teen Programs

Deborah Goldberg

I have the best job in the whole world. As the coordinator of teen programs at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, I get to do what I love—my job is to engage teens in social justice work within a Jewish context. On my first day of work at JCUA, Rebecca, who held this job before me, shared with me the history of Or Tzedek. I was simultaneously awed by our past and excited for our future.

JCUA wants to reach teens in as many ways as possible. Since its inception in 2007, Or Tzedek has run a summer program that has reached hundreds of teens. (Registration is now open for our summer 2015 sessions!)

Last year, Or Tzedek partnered with Evanston’s Beth Emet the Free Synagogue to launch Or Tzedek: Year of Action. Nearly 50 teens came together for the year to learn about root causes of social injustice in Chicago and then participated in a gun violence prevention campaign, advocating for an amendment to the Concealed Carry Act that would ban guns in houses of worship.

Next February, Or Tzedek will partner with Chicagoland Jewish High School to run a three-day activism and advocacy retreat for its junior class. The 40 students of CJHS’s junior class will have an extraordinary opportunity to learn from JCUA’s community partners, connect social justice issues to Jewish values and history, and meet with state and federal representatives to advocate for issues they care about.

Support Or Tzedek on Giving Tuesday

This Dec. 2, JCUA will participate in Giving Tuesday, a global movement dedicated to giving back. This upcoming Giving Tuesday, JCUA is raising funds for scholarship dollars to make Or Tzedek accessible to all teens. Our fundraising goal is $5,000 and we’re thrilled that a generous donor has agreed to match all scholarship donations dollar for dollar until we reach our $5,000 goal.

When I think about Or Tzedek, I think about the incredible teens I get to work with. “Or Tzedek” means “Light of Justice,” and I know that the work our teens engage in helps make the world a more just place. I also know that Or Tzedek ignites a spark within Jewish teens, and whether they go on to be leaders in their youth groups and high schools, community organizers and activists, or precinct committeeman (Or Tzedek alumni have done all of those things!), they leave the program as different people than the ones who entered it.

I want every teen to have that opportunity. 

You don’t have to wait until “Giving Tuesday” to support Or Tzedek—make a donation today.

 


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