Posted in , on November 9, 2012

From NCSY-er of the Year to Jewish Community Activist: Alumni Spotlight on Ira Piltz, J.D.

Picture this scenario:

You are a public school kid, interested in receiving a Jewish education, on the path towards becoming religious, and you want to switch to a Yeshiva high school to help further your Jewish growth. One parent is supportive of your decision, but the other is so opposed to you switching to Yeshiva that they file a petition for a ruling to keep you in public school.

What would you do?

This is just one example of a case that Ira Piltz, a high-powered lawyer from Skokie, Illinois and former NCSY-er of the year, deals with on a daily basis. (By the way, Piltz brought the case to trial and won. That NCSY-er is now in a Yeshiva high school.)

Aside from running a busy law practice, Piltz does an abundance of pro bono work for the Jewish community in Chicago. “If I see someone in court with a yarmulkah, I try to help them whether they can pay or not,” says Piltz.

Several years ago, a Hassidic woman living in Chicago was not allowed to take an ID picture to renew her license with her hair covered. After living through the hell of post-World War II Germany and the DP Camps, she was relentless when it came to covering her hair. Piltz recognized that her civil rights were being violated and took the case to court. Not only did he obtain a favorable outcome for her in terms of a remedy and an apology from the local government, he was able to have the law changed to allow women to take official pictures in the State of Illinois with their hair covered.

“My father taught me two things in life,” says Piltz. “First, the best thing you can do in life is have a profession. Second, that the best thing to do with that profession is to be of service to somebody.”

Piltz grew up in a non-observant home and attended a traditional synagogue and Hebrew School. He became involved with NCSY at the end of 7th grade, back when Midwest NCSY was called the Chicago Mesorah Region. He was heavily involved in NCSY for several years, and then walked away from it during 10th grade to pursue other interests. One night, about 6 months after he left NCSY, Piltz received a call from Rabbi A.Y. Weinberg, who was the Regional Director back in 1989.  “A.Y.” (as he was known) told Piltz that he hadn’t seen him in a while and offered him a free Shabbaton in Toronto over Winter Vacation. After attending that Shabbaton, Piltz became very active in NCSY going forward. He joined his Chapter Board, went on ISS that summer (a program similar to today’s TJJ), became a Regional Board member and went on to become NCSY-er of the year!

After spending a year in Yeshiva in Israel, Piltz attended Yeshiva University and the DePaul University College of Law, working as an NCSY advisor throughout.   He later spent 2 years as a member of the Chicago NCSY Youth Commission and is presently an Advisory Board Member for Chicago Yachad.

Piltz is grateful to NCSY for giving him three incredible gifts. “The first,” he says, “was a place to develop my Jewish identity and feel secure as a Jewish teenager while growing up in a non-religious environment. The second was an outlet for me to share my love for Judaism with others. And last, but certainly not least, NCSY gave me the opportunity to meet my wife.” (Piltz met his wife Beverley, an alumnus of NCSY Toronto, when they were both advisors at an NCSY National Convention in June of 1998.)

Together with their five kids, the Piltz family lives in Chicago and believes very strongly in NCSY. His philosophy for life stems from a saying in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “In a place where there are no men strive to be the man.”

Piltz recognizes that the Jewish community in Chicago needs help in their ongoing fight for civil justice, and he steps up to the plate. “There’s always something that needs to be done in the community,” comments Piltz. “Right now, this is my chance to give something back and make a difference!”