Two summers ago, I took part in the JCUA teen summer program Or Tzedek. When my Mom first asked me if I was interested in the program, I was unsure, but as soon as I was dropped off, everything changed. I was greeted with beaming smiles and warm welcomes by both the teens and the staff. That first day, we all got to know each other and immediately meshed – thanks in no small part to some amazing icebreakers that the staffers had organized.
Feeling at home after only the first day, I was ready to get to work. Our itinerary was packed from the get go, as we participated in activities ranging from registering voters in Millennium Park, to planting potatoes in an urban farm and career development organization on the South Side. Each activity stimulated all of my social justice glands, and after each one we returned to our homey retreat center in Bridgeport to decompress and have lively discussion about everything from cultural appropriation to Talmudic law. We also learned about social activism as a career, and had the opportunity to meet with top immigration lawyers, community organizers, and a state representative. It was very important to have these conversations with successful people in the social justice community, as it opened my eyes to how far driven individuals can go. These conversations were integral building blocks in my blossoming career as a Jewish activist.
My time with JCUA also involved a great deal of fun, building community, and exploring Chicago and Judaism with new friends. Some of my best memories are from the unstructured time, whether it was getting to know my campmates over ice cream at DQ or partying in the car-ride back from the Second City show. Or Tzedek does a terrific job balancing letting teens be teens and also fostering a space in which one can learn about social action and Judaism.
This year, over MLK weekend, Hannah Arwe, the mastermind behind Or Tzedek, is running a new teen program called Mobilize Chicago. The goal of this program is to organize teens and teach them about racial justice, allowing teens to get the full Or Tzedek experience this winter, without the two week long commitment. Over the weekend, we teens will operate out of an AirBnB in Lincoln Park, and much like Or Tzedek, travel through the city to learn about racial justice and build Jewish social justice community that will last forever.
As a Teen Adviser for Mobilize Chicago, I highly encourage my fellow teens to sign up for the program. As a Teen Advisor, I am given the reigns to help shape the program into not only something that I would like to participate in, but a program that creates a open space for dialogue, learning, and growth surrounding Judaism and social justice. There are no requirements to having a life changing experience during a JCUA run teen program. This program draw teens from all walks of life, creating a community of like minded individuals in which each participant takes home the experience of a lifetime.