Ami Weintraub is very taken with the meanings behind words.
“It’s this idea of what ‘shalom’ means — completeness. [Shulayim L’Shalom] means ‘margins to peace,’” said Weintraub, who is a rabbinical student. “It brings people into completeness in our community.”
Ratzon — Hebrew for “yearning” or “possibility” — is not your parents’ Jewish nonprofit. Jewish but non-hierarchical, the group staunchly promotes big ideas and big ideals — and shouts from the rafters for people who find themselves on the margins of society. The youth group Shulayim L’Shalom, whose regular meetings have been sidelined by COVID-19, is only part of the picture.
“We believe that healing and resistance go hand in hand. When oppression and violence rattles our communities we are often left with political, emotional and spiritual wounds. Joining together to heal and fight back helps us care for ourselves and those we love,” the group’s website reads. “Ratzon is a place for those from marginalized communities, cultures and identities to gather in healing and resistance.”
The group maintains a space in North Oakland — other politically left-leaning groups also share the space — where it promotes drop-ins and events. Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, much of the building’s footprint has been dedicated to the group’s distribution efforts: Ratzon collects food, toiletries, baby clothes and other material needs, and volunteers deliver them to families throughout the city.
A lot of the group is about healing, Weintraub said. Members frequently sing together at events — you can hear a sample of one singing session online — or light candles at post-denominational Shabbat services. Ratzon even joined the more traditional fray to host a menorah-lighting Chanukah celebration recently.
“The belief is that people on the margins of society … need to heal and we also need to resist, to safeguard ourselves and our community,” Weintraub said.
In addition, the group does very practical things — like offering gender-affirming clothing to transgender youth and others expressing their gender identity.
“Ratzon is a lot of things,” Weintraub said. “Part of the idea is we want to be uplifting for queer Jewish people — for material needs and for spiritual needs.”
The broader Jewish community in Pittsburgh has been supportive of Ratzon, Weintraub said, adding “we look forward to serving our community together.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.