We founded Uri L'Tzedek because we perceived a gap in American Orthodoxy. Rav Soloveitchik wrote: "the actualization of the ideals of justice and righteousness is the pillar of fire which halakhic man follows," yet before Uri L'Tzedek there was no center of Orthodox efforts to promote justice and righteousness in the broader world.
American Orthodoxy has been so successful in many areas: building vibrant communities and institutions, promoting talmud Torah, and more. However, many Orthodox Jews felt that the Orthodox community was not living up to its potential to pursue tzedek in the broader world, to be an or lagoyim, a light unto the nations. We founded Uri L'Tzedek to fill that gap by engaging, empowering and hopefully inspiring the American Orthodox Jewish community to pursue tzedek and mishpat within but also beyond its own communal borders.
2. What has been your biggest challenge since starting your organization?
Tzedek is hard work. It's easy to do service project and feel good for a day, or to learn about an issue and feel something about it for a few hours, but to take one's deepest values, tzedek, rachamim, mishpat, and actualize them in a big and complicated world is not easy, even when the cause is just. We've had our sucesses - over 80 restaurants across the nation are certified by the Tav HaYosher, an ethical seal that promotes just workplaces in kosher restaurants, we've hosted hundreds of batei midrash where people come together to learn Torah and apply it to the world's most pressing modern day issues, but we've also had our setbacks... I think the fact that not every single kosher restaurant in the US has the Tav, whose standards are just meeting the legal requirements for wages, breaks and overtimes, is a major setback. I think the perception among some members of the Orthodox world that creating a society that takes care of the ger, yatom and almanah, is a political cause and not a Torah cause is a challenge for the organization. But the Torah's call be rodfei tzedek, pursuers of justice, is what keeps the organization striving and, thank God, growing.
3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
I am deeply looking forward to learning from the amazing group of people gathered together, to sharing best practices and ideas, to networking, and to being reinvigorated with the energy that a day focusing on our future, can bring.
Ari Hart is the co-founder of Uri L'Tzedek and a leader of multiple initiatives that bring the Jewish community and the world together to make positive social change. A contributor to the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz magazine, and more, he was recently selected by the Jewish Week as one of the 36 "forward-thinking young people who are helping to remake the Jewish community." He has worked to spread the message of Jewish social justice and responsibility in synagogues, schools and change organizations across North America.
Follow him on Twitter: @arihart
Visit his website: http://www.utzedek.org