" The turning point in my life was coming to RZJHS because that was when I became a leader. I was empowered by my teachers and I learned how to be a good student. I developed a good work ethic, I took initiative, and I got to shape a lot of things that are still in existence at RZJHS today. I definitely wouldn’t trade my unique experience for anything."
By Steve Sadin
Many North Shore high schools run an annual charity drive, but at Chicagoland Jewish High School (CJHS) in Deerfield, it becomes an educational and social action project as well.
A yearlong effort studying and advocating for immigration rights and reform culminated with the presentation of an $8,500 check to HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) Chicago last month on the Deerfield campus.HIAS Chicago is a 100-year old organization that helps immigrants to the United States achieve citizenship, according to Director Jodi Doane. Though originally devoted to assisting Jewish immigrants, that population makes up only 35 percent of HIAS’s effort today.
“We help people who are fleeing persecution and unsafe conditions,” Doane said. “We work to reunite families. Typically one person comes and works to bring their family. We help with the paperwork and put them on the path to citizenship.”
Fundraising for HIAS was done as part of the school’s DEAP (direct service, education, advocacy and philanthropy) program, through which students pick an issue for to study and support each year, according to Joe Kupferberg of Highland Park, who graduated in May.
“(It) engages the CJHS community by teaching its members about philanthropy, raising awareness of systemic socioeconomic realities and giving students an opportunity to successfully lead and manage an organization,” said Kupferberg, who will be a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
Fellow CJHS student Aviva Hirsch, a senior from Evanston, said the school chose immigration because of the student community’s belief that the country’s current immigration system is “defective.”
“In addition to its impediment to America’s long-term economic success, families are separated, workers are exploited and lives are taken due to the rampant discrimination targeted at immigrants,” she said.
Among the agencies devoted to immigration and immigration reform, HIAS was an easy choice, according to Jewish studies teacher and student advisor Rabbi Marc Belgrad.
“If HIAS did not work directly for them, it had a direct impact on their families, even if it was three or four generations ago,” he said.Kupferberg seconded his teacher’s thoughts about HIAS.
“The choice of HIAS Chicago was a no-brainer given the agency’s extraordinary history in the Jewish community and in Chicago at large,” he said. “HIAS Chicago has a relatively small budget and runs on impressive margins, so (we) felt that each dollar donated would have the greatest positive impact on an immigrating individual.”
The bulk of the money — $7,500 — was collected through the sale of Mishloach Manot baskets in March, during the Jewish holiday of Purim. These containers filled with traditional pastries, candy, snacks and juice boxes are exchanged to commemorate the rescue of the Jewish people from the hands of a Persian tyrant in Biblical times, according to Belgrad.The gift thrilled officers and directors of HIAS Chicago, particularly since it came from young people
“It brought awareness to the (difficulty) of adjusting to life in the United States,” said Irena Persky of Deerfield, president of the HIAS board of directors. “They brought awareness to the plight of refugees and immigrants.”
Hirsch said she, too, took something away from the experience: lessons she can apply to all aspects of her life.
“There should never be a point in your life when you tell yourself that your voice or your community’s voice doesn’t matter,” she said. “Even if you feel disconnected from world-wide disasters, there are always resources and ways to contribute.”
For the original article, visit http://deerfield.suntimes.com/2014/06/28/chicagoland-jewish-high-school-students-raise-8500-immigration-nonprofit