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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.