iChange: Uri L’Tzedek Fellows, Jason Strauss and Yael Malul

Each summer Pursue’s partner, Uri L’Tzedek hosts fellows in New York City who spend the summer months learning about the the role of social justice in the Torah, participating in workshops devoted to social justice and community organizing, and doing direct service work.

Meet two of this summer’s fellows below!

Jason Strauss

What brought you to social justice work?
Although some people often try to distinguish between “chesed” (kindness), something that was definitely emphasized in my prior Jewish education, and social justice, for me, the distinction is not really there.  Social justice means trying to improve the lives of those who have been dealt a less fortunate hand. That idea, of spending my time in service of those that do not have the tremendous blessings that I have received but deserve to have them as least as much as I do, is not new to me, so an Orthodox social justice organization is a natural fit for me.

How does Judaism inspire you to serve and make change in the world?
Upon a close reading the Torah and Talmud, it’s clear that one of the major themes in Jewish practice is the idea that as a people that was once oppressed, we have a special affinity for and obligation to support the oppressed and disadvantaged.  We even have an entire holiday dedicated to ensuring that we keep this in mind: Passover.

What do you hope to accomplish or learn this summer?
My goal this summer is pretty specific: to mainstream the value of social justice in the Orthodox community.  I’m working on two projects toward that goal.  I, along with two other summer fellows, am developing a text-based social justice curriculum for Orthodox Jewish high schools with the goal of making social justice issues a regular topic in the Orthodox world. I am also working with another fellow on publicizing the Tav HaYosher and restaurants that are certified with the Tav and comply with state labor laws in order to raise awareness about workers’ rights abuse and to encourage more kosher restaurants to want the Tav HaYosher. In these two ways, along with many of the other efforts of the summer fellows, we will be able to create an Orthodox community committed to ethics and social justice.

Jason Strauss grew up in Lawrence, NY and attended DRS Yeshiva High School.  He then spent a year studying at Yeshivat Shaalvim in Nof Ayalon, Israel.  He is currently a senior in Columbia University, where he is majoring in Operations Research: Engineering Management Systems and minoring in Economics.  Concurrent with his final year at Columbia, Jason will begin studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary this Fall.  He is a volunteer at Community Impact at Columbia University, where he taught math to adults pursuing their GED with the intent to attend college.

Yael Malul

What brought you to social justice work?
I became interested in social justice work because I wanted to learn about different populations and the hardships they face. I wanted to be able to meet people face-to-face and try to understand what they are going through. Even though I may not truly know what it is like to be homeless or to not have access to fresh produce or to have a myriad of other problems, we are all ultimately human and can connect because we all experience happiness, sadness, despair, apathy, etc. I also wanted to think about creative solutions to the problems that exist and be part of their implementation.

How does Judaism inspire you to serve and make change in the world?
Judaism is a system that encourages us to think about how we live and act in the world. That in itself inspires me to lead an examined life and focus my attention on what’s going on outside of myself. Furthermore, Judaism’s central narrative, that of the exodus from Egypt, is a story of oppression and injustice. Being the victim of such oppression should serve to sensitize us to the victimization of others and act on their behalf.

Why Uri L’Tzedek?
The Orthodox community looks to the Torah for inspiration and guidelines for living. Treating each and every person with dignity, Jewish or non-Jewish, is as rooted in the Torah as Shabbat and Kashrut. Uri L’tzedek grounds its work in those Torah sources and seeks to live out their message.

Yael Malul grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ and attended Rutgers University. She was a mentor in the Rutgers Foster Care Counseling Project and in Project SPAN (Supportive Parent Aide Network) at Middlesex County College. Her passions include trying to understand the human experience, discussing different theories of psychotherapy, and studying the development of Jewish thought.

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