During the weekend of October 12-14, 2012 the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College welcomed 22 high school students from throughout the country and Canada to participate in a youth program entitled, “Teaching to Fish or Giving a Fish: Tzedek vs. Tzedakah.” The event was a collaborative initiative of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA), The National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and the Religious Action Center (RAC).
Students were nominated by peer leaders or Jewish communal professionals as delegates to attend this program, which focused on the themes of social justice and social action. “We wanted to identify emerging Jewish student leaders from throughout the country and then create a powerful program based in Jewish values and thought,” explained Ari Lorge, a senior rabbinical student on the Cincinnati campus and one of the weekend’s organizers. “ The program we developed was designed to inspire them to think deeply about their obligations as Jews to help and empower marginalized populations. We wanted them to wrestle with questions like how to meet that responsibility--- and how to create real and lasting change. In the end, it was our hope that they would discover their own personal philosophy about engaging in justice work, and that they would be able to identify the issues they care about most to bring about social change.”
The students had opportunities to learn from HUC-JIR professors and other rabbinical students throughout the weekend. Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and a Professor of the American Jewish Experience at HUC-JIR used archival materials from the AJA’s collections to help the participants explore various models of “change” within the Reform movement. Dr. Zola led a documentary study focusing on the social action planks in the four major platforms of American Reform Judaism. Participants also had an opportunity to listen to historic recordings of civil rights leaders such as Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (1874-1949) and Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1988).
The group also visited Venice on Vine—a restaurant project in downtown Cincinnati that works with people having difficulty re-entering the workforce. Venice on Vine provides job training within the restaurant; and clients use that training to secure jobs and leave the cycle of unemployment.
“At the end of the weekend, it was clear that a solid community had already formed,” continued Lorge. “New relationships were forged, and the staff put up a Facebook community to help cement these meaningful connections.. Now they are building conversations about Reform Judaism and social justice around the country.”
There have been dozens of online posts, including one that read, “Wanna talk about amazing weekends? Okay here we go…This weekend, I participated in a life changing experience. I went to Cincinnati, Ohio where I learned, laughed, met some incredible people, and so much more. This weekend reminded me that my Judaism plays one of the biggest roles in my life. I may have only met these people on Friday, but we became a family instantly. Thank you HUC Cincinnati, AJA, and the RAC for letting me experience something that has made such an incredible impact on my life.”
Organizers, including Beth Avner, NFTY Director of Education and Special Projects; Molly Benoit of RAC; and Leah Citrin and Dana Benson, third year rabbinical students at HUC-JIR Cincinnati, asked the participants to complete an evaluation of the weekend. One student wrote, “This was my second weekend here and it was good to be back home. I will be back for rabbinical studies and am looking forward to representing California in upcoming retreats. I LOVE HUC-JIR!”