CFJS is committed to empowering Jewish student leaders to be activators of social change. From October 7-11, 2010, a group of ten student leaders from Windsor to Saskatoon embarked on our Social Action Mission to New York City, working together in service of others, and reflecting on the Jewish responsibility to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) and pursue justice (Tzedek).
CFJS was pleased to partner with Rabbi Ari Weiss, director of Uri L’Tzedek, a leading social justice organization in the Orthodox community. Rabbi Weiss led the group in a Midnight Run – distributing packages of food to homeless individuals in Manhattan. The group also spread out over Brooklyn to advocate for Uri L’Tzedek’s Tav HaYosher, an “ethical seal” of Kashrut, by speaking with Kosher restaurant owners and consumers. The third service experience was with the Met Council for Jewish Poverty, serving dinner at two soup kitchens in Brooklyn and Queens. For Shabbat, the group enjoyed Friday evening at New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. This included a panel discussion with CFJS board members, as well as NYU Hillel and AEPi’s social justice chairs. Saturday, the group explored Jewish life in the Lower East Side, with Rabbi Josh Yuter. The group was fortunate to meet with David Harris and Rebecca Neuwirth, from the American Jewish Committee – a valued partner of CFJS – as well as leaders of the American Jewish World Service.
CFJS looks forward to continued success in its Social Action Missions, as we build a national network of social entrepreneurs committed to Tikkun Olam.
Pursuant of Social Justice
A Reflection on the NYC Trip by Jonathan Liedtke, University of Windsor
On October 7, students from across Canada gave up their thanksgiving weekend, sacrificing seeing friends and family, studying for midterms, being involved in their regular clubs/committees on campus, etc, a ‘normal weekend’, in pursuit of something bigger. They instead took part in a social justice excursion, organized by the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students, which led them to New York City, to do hands on volunteering, social justice work, and study. The itinerary of the students was filled from Thursday to Monday, with little free time: working at soup kitchens, participating with Midnight Run delivering food, blankets, and clothing to the homeless, learning about and canvassing for Uri L’Tzedek and their ethical seal for the fair and equal treatment of all workers, documented and undocumented, in Kosher restaurants.
The students represented different faculties and programs from universities across Canada; however, it became quite evident that there was something very similar within all of the students. Aside from the fact they were all Jewish, moreover, there was something, which resonated throughout all of the students, a drive toward justice, and a passion to Do. Never were complaints made about the level of work, the situations, which were presented, or the little time for sleep at night – quite the opposite, as most seemed to want to do more.
These ten student leaders had all acted in this capacity before, putting the needs of others before themselves, whether working for the Jewish community directly, or society on the whole. What was unique about this trip was the direct Jewish element involved, in such a large city, where a need for help echoes through the streets. The economic downturn, the housing market crisis, etc, are not isolated events, which elude the Jewish community, we are not immune. Though the vast public might not believe there is a need for Jews to be helped due to their own misconceptions and ignorance, I can certainly say, that now, more than ever, there is a need. While at face value, Jewish people may appear to be at a better place than the general citizenry, this does not mean people are not dependant on the services which Jewish organizations provide (and not restricted entirely to Jewish people either!).
Working directly with Midnight Run, delivering food to the homeless at various locations throughout downtown Manhattan, and finally culminating at Penn Station, helped to juxtapose the inconsistencies and cracks in our social fabric. Posters for Broadway shows helped to line the walls of these disenfranchised people’s home. ‘The Lion King: Eight Performances a Week!’; ‘Free Wifi for All’; ‘Swarovski diamonds and jewels’; all seemed oddly out of place when the audience at night for these advertisements and services were the homeless. When people are using Penn Station as a home, the luxury of ‘Free Wifi’ almost seems like a slap in the face.
Uri L’tzedek, a non-profit social justice organization aimed at inspiring Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in Jews and non-Jews alike, is pursuant of the ethical treatment of all workers, regardless of national origin. The vast majority of kosher restaurants in New York, and Brooklyn, surprisingly employ the same business strategies as their competition: paying below minimum wage where they can get away with it. Uri L’tzedek believes, as do we, that this strategy does not fit hand in hand with Torah values, or the laws as defined by the United States of America (or Canada for that matter). Their seal, after a rigorous qualifying period is affixed to an ethical restaurant, alongside their seal of Kashrut, to let patrons know they are supporting a restaurant, which employs ethical standards. Though theirs is an uphill battle against orthodoxy and fixed values and beliefs, they are garnering speed and traction; with 60 restaurants across America conforming to their beliefs, the organization is constantly expanding, and seeking support.
Arriving home after a trip like this, like many before it, I felt the all too familiar emptiness feeling. It is reminiscent of the day after summer camp ends, or moving out of a house of your friends, or leaving a job after a number of years; change is difficult. Even with a short trip of 5 days, patterns, scheduling and a routine is developed, and once it is broken, you are left with a sense of, ‘what now’?
What now is exactly the kind of question you want resonating throughout you after a trip of this nature. It is ideal! I found myself pacing my bedroom, thoughts racing a mile a minute: what project to start, how to go about it, where to begin?
Therefore, I got down to it. Wrote out a plan, a project overview, and started making phone calls. No need for someone to tell me what to do: initiative took hold. Initiative is what these trips breed; initiative is what the world needs. We all know there are problems facing our world, both big and small; they are all manageable and attainable. We are our own biggest supporters and critics alike. Each one of us is either our biggest motivation, or hindrance.
Pursuing social justice is no easy feat. It is not a one-day quest, the world cannot change overnight. What I have learned now, more than ever however, is that the change you can affect, is monumental. Even if you can make one person’s life a bit happier, easier, even less hectic, that is what counts. We are all in this world together, as one team: we need to work together.
A Reflection on the CFJS 2010 Winter Symposium in Chicago by Staci Silverman, Co-President Edmonton Hillel
Reading week had a bit of a different spin for 11 Jewish University students from campuses across Canada this year. Social justice and Jewish leadership were the hot topics of the week as all 11 students descended on the windy city of Chicago for a week-long winter symposium.
The symposium began at The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in downtown Chicago where we had the honour of having two classes with Professor Barry Chazzan on topics ranging from Israel advocacy to Israeli poetry. These lectures led to not only discussion, but also personal discoveries and thought about the State of Israel.
At the Spertus Institute we also had the honour of meeting with Dr. Hal Lewis, president of the Institute who provided his expertise on the future of becoming a Jewish professional in the modern world. These sessions left us all with a seed of the possibility of careers as Jewish professionals planted in our minds.
Jeffrey Greenberg, a participant on the symposium from the University of Guelph as well as the Member at Large for the Central Canadian region on the national Canadian Federation of Jewish Students board agreed that “Learning at the Spertus Institute reaffirmed everything I had heard about the college, and a career in Jewish professional service now seems like a very promising option for me”.
While the first few days of the symposium did entail a few hours of lecture style sessions we also had the opportunity to meet with multiple Chicago Jewish community leaders who shared their expertise and advice in working with various organizations. Matt Rutchik, a participant on the symposium from the University of Toronto pointed out that, “Our days were scheduled in a remarkable way so that classes provided a theoretical framework to approach activities”. Our meetings and interactions always led us to some sort of community service project involving Jewish and non-Jewish community members. The first of these projects was the Chicago Night Ministry, a bus that operates 6 nights a week, serving the Chicago homeless community coffee and hot chocolate, providing on-sight HIV testing and medical aid as well as a bagged meal. We had the opportunity to meet at the University of Chicago Hillel building to prepare sandwiches to distribute throughout the evening at the bus locations. After only knowing each other for just a few hours we ventured out to this new experience, learning from each other but also from those we were helping. We continued to participate in community service projects with EZRA, helping community members with household chores or packing boxes, and eventually to the Chicago Council for Jewish Elderly where we spent a morning with senior citizens answering questions and having conversations with our new adopted grandparents for the day.
Other scheduled programs included a guided tour of the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Centre in Skokie, Illinois. With the official opening just a few months ago in April 2009, the centre brings new Holocaust education material and a different perspective within the walls of a beautiful new museum and awe inspiring architecture. Inspiration and motivation were drawn from a meeting with Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Rabbi of congregation Anshe Sholom B’nei Israel in Chicago, where we learned that being a Jewish leader can take many different forms. We also had the opportunity to reflect upon a little bit of tradition at a local production of “Fiddler on The Roof” at the Marriot Lincolnshire Theatre.
The final few days of the symposium were spent in Evanston, Illinois, home to the campus of Northwestern University. We soon learned that this small, college town was a warm and welcoming community as we spent Shabbat with the students of Northwestern University Hillel in their beautiful Hillel centre. We were all welcomed with open arms as we enjoyed the beauty of Shabbat on a major American University campus. We had the opportunity to meet with Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Northwestern University Hillel Staff Rabbi where we intertwined the study of Jewish scripture with ideas for Jewish leadership and service in our own communities.
Overall, the symposium allowed for the formation of bonds between Jewish student leaders from various campuses from across Canada but also for the inspiration of ideas for programs and opportunities to bring back to our own local communities. We all left the program ready to act on our ideas and to motivate those around us. As Adam Moscoe, a first year student at the University of Ottawa and participant of the symposium stated, “I began to see Tikun Olam as not just about advocacy for the Jewish or pro-Israel community, but rather the right thing to do-for my religion and for the world”.