Reflecting on 10 Days of Change: Or Tzedek 2015 Summer Session 1

July 2, 2015

By Deborah Goldberg
JCUA’s Coordinator of Teen Programs

It’s hard to believe that at this time two weeks ago, our first summer 2015 session was just getting under way!  It was an incredible 10 days of activism, advocacy, organizing, and having fun together.  If I could sum up 10 days in 10 numbers, here’s what I would say:

10 amazing teens

9 workshops on social justice concepts and campaigns

8 partner organizations visited

7 hours of prep for two prayer vigils and an advocacy visit with the President of the Illinois Senate

6 amazing staff members

5 states represented

4 jumbo bags of M&Ms consumed

3 views of Chicago (by boat, by car, and from the 37th floor of a downtown office!)

2 Shabbatot

1 incredible Or Tzedek session

There’s no possible way to capture the enthusiasm and passion of our first session teens in words and numbers alone.  From participating in meaningful workshops to advocating to the president of the Illinois State Senate on the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights, from leading a prayer vigil in support of the Trauma Center Campaign to celebrating two Shabbatot together, the teens’ energy, curiosity, and willingness to give 100% of themselves in every workshop and meeting was inspiring.

Check out the photo essay below for more information on our experiences! (Click on any photo below to see a slideshow with comments!)

As our first summer session came to a close on Sunday morning, I shared with the teens that I hope Or Tzedek and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs are always places where they feel at home.  In just 10 short days, we were able to build a community, take action on several campaigns, celebrate Shabbat, and help prepare our teens to take their new skills and passion for social justice home.  We can’t wait to see these teens again at future Or Tzedek and JCUA programs!


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!”




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.


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