This summer I participated in Or Tzedek and the experience I had was absolutely amazing. Or Tzedek was made up of a group ten teens from Chicago and Florida. Usually, I’m very shy, so going to stay in the city for twelve days with no one I knew was kind of terrifying. However, after a few rounds of get-to-know-you games, I realized that we all had so many things in common; all ten of us were Jewish teens who were passionate about making a difference in the world. This made it easier to start making friends, and I can honestly say that I got to know each person at Or Tzedek very well.
One way that we were all able to become close friends was through one-on-one’s. A one-on-one is similar to a conversation, but one person is asking more questions, so that they can learn more about the other person. We learned to use one-on-one’s to speak with other people about their social justice interests, and to find shared opportunities for action. Throughout Or Tzedek, we practiced these conversations with each other, first asking why the other person chose to participate in Or Tzedek. This question went on to inspire other conversations. One-on-one’s helped us become more comfortable opening up about more intimate parts of our lives, even though we had only known each other for a few days.
Another highlight of Or Tzedek was participating in canvassing, which we did three different times. First, we talked to people in Uptown about rent control and affordable housing. We also collected postcards for Alderman Smith and Mayor Emanuel to create a community oversight board for the Chicago Police Department that will hold police accountable for their actions. Lastly we worked with Chicago Votes to get more of Chicago voting so that voices of the whole city are represented during elections. One thing that amazed me about all of this was how many steps went in to making a larger change. When we were canvassing, we were only taking small actions, but through a ripple effect, we were helping to bring an even bigger change to the world.
Shabbat was an incredible experience during Or Tzedek because everyone came from different backgrounds. We all held Shabbat at different levels of importance, but we all understood that it was a chance to be together. This was the first time that I celebrated Shabbat in a way that included not turning on and off lights, not heating up food, and not driving anywhere. It was very calming. It allowed us to have the chance to focus on each other, rather than on our phones. One thing that I also liked about it was that it made me more aware. I did turn on the lights in order to get ready for bed, but throughout the day I left them off. There was no need to turn them on because there were windows that provided daylight in every room. I was more aware of my actions that would mean I was wasting energy or water. Shabbat through Or Tzedek helped me to be much more open minded.
One thing that really stood out to me from Or Tzedek was the vigil we went to in order to support immigrants facing deportation. It was very different than anything I had previously experienced. For one, I was surprised by the location. I had expected a small chapel space with an alter and everything, but the vigil took place right outside of the ICE deportation center in Broadview. The fact that the location was there changed the mood of the vigil. Suddenly, the idea of deportation became so much more real than just being a topic on the news. The location seemed to say, “Here is a place where these people are being treated horribly, where they are taken when they are separated from their families.” The idea became much more present throughout the vigil. During the vigil, a van drove by with people from the center who were being transferred, likely to be deported. Seeing this changed my views on deportation. The idea became so much more real. The vigil itself consisted of different songs, prayers, and texts from different religions. One text that really stuck with me said that a person who separates a family during life, will be separated from their loved ones on judgement day. The vigil was an amazing experience, and it’s hard to believe that it has happened every single week for twelve years. It made me rethink the idea of immigration and the policies on immigration in America. I often hear about how the immigration “problem” is being “dealt with”. This vigil made me think that maybe we should take a step back to put ourselves in immigrants’ shoes in order to address the situation with more kindness. This goes with what JCUA is working on: trying to ensure the safety of undocumented immigrants.
As a whole, Or Tzedek helped me come to terms with the importance of social justice in my life. It also helped me connect the ideas of social justice to my Jewish identity. An important message that I want to take away from Or Tzedek is that it’s important to speak up for what I believe in, even if I’m still a kid. I have a voice, I have ways to get my ideas out, and I am not alone in whatever I want to accomplish. There will always be someone else who feels the same way, and even more people who can be swayed in their thinking. I have ideas, I have power, and I can use it to create a better world. Or Tzedek helped me to see this, and it was an absolutely amazing twelve days.