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Organizations: Etgar 36

The word “etgar” is Hebrew for “challenge.”

Etgar 36, based in Decatur, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the future Jewish political voice by taking Jewish teens on journeys throughout America and empowering them to get engaged politically and socially to change the world.

“We’ve seen this recent surge of anti-Semitism,” says director Billy Planer. “What we hope to teach is that Jews have been integral to the making of America. Kids walk away with an understanding that they have a say in things.”

The group organizes travel packages for schools, synagogues and youth groups that explore Jewish history. At stops throughout the South – Atlanta, Memphis, Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham – the students learn about the role Jews played in the civil rights struggle.

In New York, they study the culture of the Lower East Side and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which prompted Jewish lawyers to work with unions to improve labor and zoning laws. And in Las Vegas, students even get a primer on the role of Jews in the mafia.

Planer launched Etgar 36 in 2002, and today he has a staff of three who help him coordinate the logistics of his journeys. His most ambitious travel plan is a 36-day trip covering 26 cities across the country – from Atlanta to California and back. The program is self-funding because pilgrims pay for their trips, but the group also accepts donations.

“The struggle didn’t end with Martin Luther King, and that was not a black-only movement,” Planer says. “If one group is being oppressed, that means that sooner or later another group will be oppressed. What we emphasize is that we’re all in this together.”

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