This past summer’s calls for racial justice motivated young members of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation to get involved in their synagogue’s new teen racial justice action team.
Chevrei Tzedek’s Rabbi Rory Katz had a number of meetings with bar and bat mitzvah students, where she listened to what they cared about and picked up on a sense of dissatisfaction, particularly in regard to issues of social justice.
“Some of them expressed a sense of impatience,” Katz said, “and a sense that we weren’t doing enough as a community, and that we weren’t looking at and addressing the root causes of inequality in Baltimore.
“There was a concern that what we were doing was too superficial,” Katz continued, “that if you are providing people with access to healthy food by helping out in a local community garden, that’s great, because people need healthy food. But it doesn’t answer the question of why do some people have access to healthy food to begin with, and some people don’t.”
The students’ feelings were not limited to their synagogue, Katz said. Whether in their schools or in their extracurricular activities, her students felt that while they might be learning about racial injustice in Baltimore, they were not being given the opportunity to make a real difference in their community.
For that reason, in September, Katz decided to launch Chevrei Tzedek’s teen racial justice action team. The program is a place where teens can come together once a month to learn about racial justice, social activism and community organizing skills and culminates in a social action project.
One of the teens involved in the action team, Owings Mills resident Mali Glazer, said she became becoming more aware of racial issues after starting a new school. At her private middle school, she explained, the majority of people she interacted with were white. Now a junior at Pikesville High School, her new environment has led to her become “more conscious of the challenges that people face, and so I became more invested.”
At their monthly meetings, the action team’s approximately 10 teen members share what they know about racial injustice, while Katz shares strategies she has learned on making social change. While Chevrei Tzedek members make up the majority of the team, any teens who wish to participate are welcome, and team members are free to attend meetings as it suits them.
One of the subjects Katz discussed with the members involved organizing money in the context of social justice. With that in mind, the teens decided to organize a fundraiser to benefit organizations working to address inequality in the Baltimore school system.
Chevrei Tzedek has done fundraisers in the past, Glazer explained, such as with selling candles, which helped give them the idea for a fundraiser that involves face masks. The group’s plan was to find an online mask manufacturer to produce a number of face masks featuring one or two designs made by the group members. Members of the Chevrei Tzedek community who donate a specific amount will be sent these masks or some other type of trinket, and the proceeds will go to a not-yet determined organization working to affect change.
The team has currently identified a manufacturer, Glazer said, and they are working to decide what design they will use and what group the collected money would be going to. Candidates currently include Black Girls Code, Know Your Rights Camp, The Conscious Kid and Joyce Preschool.
If fundraising within the Chevrei Tzedek community proves successful, Glazer said, it is possible the team might try fundraising among other Baltimore-area synagogues.
Once the education fundraiser is completed, Glazer said she would like to see the action team work on a project involving climate change, such as raising money to prevent ice cap melting, or “even something simple, like going on a highway picking up trash.”