Chicago Trauma Center Victory: Black Lives Do Matter

December 15, 2014

By Michal David
JCUA member and guest blogger

‘I can’t breathe’

Die in protest against police brutality

Activists take part in a die-in in the Bronzeville neighborhood to protest police brutality against people of color.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, I attended a #blacklivesmatter demonstration in downtown Chicago to protest the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, and to stand up against a persistent system of police brutality in this country. Like many other protests across the nation over the past few weeks, one of the most powerful phrases chanted by demonstrators was “I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Eric Garner before he was placed in a choke hold and killed by a New York City police officer in July of this year.

Michal David

Michal David

While chanting these words, I found myself walking next to an older Black man standing in front of dozens of police officers blocking the march. He was urgently yelling, “But I literally can’t breathe.”

When I asked him to explain, he said: “I go through my life with the feeling that I’m suffocating. That no matter what I do, I can’t do anything right.”

The response left me with a deep sense of despair. How could we even begin to make change in a system that it causes individuals to feel like they are suffocating from severe disenfranchisement? These feelings of helplessness lingered with me as I entered my work week the day following the protest.

Trauma center victory

And then, something wonderful happened. We had a win.

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, the University of Chicago announced that it would begin the process of expanding its pediatric trauma program to include 16- and 17-year-olds. Since the closing of the University’s Level 1 Adult Trauma Center in 1988 and the subsequent closing of the Michael Reese Trauma Center a year later, the South Side of Chicago has been devoid of an adult trauma center. As a result, adults on the South Side who suffer from traumatic injuries are often forced to travel up to 12 miles to receive the care they need.

Join JCUA members in observance of Hanukkah, Thursday, Dec. 18 from 6-8 pm at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. RSVP here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filling in the Gaps: Legislation and Gun Violence in one of America’s Deadliest Cities

December 3, 2014

By Molly Schneider
JCUA Community Organizing Intern

But is it safe?  After deciding to pick up and move from Boston to the Windy City, questions of violence were first on the minds of my family and friends.

Perceived to be the murder capital of the United States, with a population of 2.7 million people, Chicago does not actually have the highest murder rate in the country.  A recent Pew Research Center report doesn’t even place it in the top 10. Yet access to guns is unprecedented.

On the second anniversary of the Newton shootings, a vigil for the victims of gun violence will be held in cities across the U.S.  Join JCUA members and other organizations in remembrance: Thursday, Dec. 11, 6:30-8:00 pm, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.  Keynote Speaker: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will be the keynote speaker. #EndGunViolence.On the second anniversary of the Newton shootings, a vigil for the victims of gun violence will be held in cities across the U.S.Join JCUA members and other organizations in remembrance:

Thursday, Dec. 11, 6:30-8:00 pm, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Keynote Speaker: Cook County

Board President Toni Preckwinkle will be the keynote speaker.

» Learn more and RSVP

According to Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, the Chicago police recover seven times as many illegal guns as the NYPD.

In 2013 alone the city of Chicago witnessed 440 murders and 1,864 shootings. The CDC recorded an average of one person killed by guns every eight hours. These statistics are sobering but they are not entirely surprising. While attending the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Summit on Oct. 8 I learned something that brought into question all of my stereotypes and misconceptions: Illinois has some of the toughest and most comprehensive gun laws in the entire country.

How can that be possible? How can staggering violence occur in the face of fierce legislation? The logic is in the loopholes–the gaps in the laws.

According to research collected by the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, 41 percent of firearm deaths in Illinois are due to suicide. While there are federal and state laws to keep guns out of the hands of those considered most dangerous to others, seldom discussed is the need to prevent access to guns for individuals most dangerous to themselves. California has found a unique way to fill the gaps in our laws and meet this need.

On Sept. 30, with the passage of AB 1014, California became the first state in the country to pass a Gun Violence Restraining Order law. By providing family members the opportunity to restrict a relative’s access to gun ownership through petitioning the courts, this law offers families a safe way to protect their loved ones.  While restraining orders might be a controversial attempt to strengthen gun violence prevention, it resonated at the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Summit.

Looking around at the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Summit, I realized there was a common thread that brought us all together. In one way or another, all of our lives had been touched by gun violence. Community organizers and city officials, teachers and millennials, parents of children whose lives were taken too early and parents who fear for their children’s safety each day–all of us feel the impact.

As a student at the University of Chicago, I reside in a neighborhood considered to be a haven within the larger South Side community. However as a Chicagoan and as a Jew, gun violence is an issue that concerns me. It concerns all of us.

In Judaism, human life is sacred. Not only does the bible tell us, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13), it also instructs us, “Do not stand by the bloodshed of your fellow” (Leviticus 19:16). As Jewish people, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those around us by preventing violence. Through our commitment to gun violence prevention and campaign to help establish a level-1 trauma center on the South Side of Chicago, JCUA puts into action those tenets that are so vital to Judaism.

Learn more about the recent role Jews have played in gun violence prevention:


On December 2, You Can Help Or Tzedek Change Lives

December 2, 2014

Black Friday…Cyber Monday…

On #GivingTuesday (Dec. 2), JCUA is asking for your support of Or Tzedek, our teen social justice program. Today’s guest blogger shares his life-changing experiences with this unique program. Your donations will help fund scholarships for Or Tzedek. Gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000.

Sam Hamer today and in 2009 when he attended a rally with JCUA in support of hotel workers.

By Sam Hamer
Or Tzedek Alum

What does it mean to be a “stranger in a strange land”? It’s not a question that most Jewish teens ask themselves.

I certainly wasn’t any different. As someone who was raised in a household in which my parents sent me to Reform summer camp and preached liberal Jewish values, I thought I had tikkun olam all figured out. So going into Or Tzedek, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual—clean up a park, talk some Talmud, call it a day. But what transpired over those two weeks brought my Judaism and my activism together in a way that forced me to consider more deeply than ever before my values and beliefs.

How do you treat a “stranger in a strange land”? Demonstrating for the rights of immigrant workers in downtown Chicago—some my own Edgewater neighbors, it turns out—forced me to confront this biblical query in the most immediate of ways. On trips to Little Village and Austin and Englewood (would I ever have entered these neighborhoods otherwise?) I had the opportunity to engage with and dedicate myself to people for whom the triumph of justice over injustice is more than just an aspiration: it is the difference between sufficiency and hunger, or health and illness, or even between life and death.

» Help make it possible for a teenage to attend Or Tzedek. Make a #GivingTuesday
» Learn more about the 2015 Or Tzedek summer program.

I will for the rest of my life value my time as a part of Or Tzedek, not only because it opened my eyes to some of the greatest challenges of 21st-century urban America, but also because it prompted me to ask fundamental questions about what Judaism means. Sure, Judaism is prayer and tradition and good food. But after two weeks of Or Tzedek, I discovered that my Judaism had evolved into something more. My Judaism was no longer just an “is” but a “does”; a verb rooted in the pursuit of justice that we have an obligation to our community and our faith to realize. Tzedek tzedek tirdof [“Justice, justice shall you pursue”]—it turns out it’s in the same text as shema and kashrut and rugelach (sort of).

As a Jewish teen with an open mind, a heart for activism, and a curiosity to engage with deep questions of what Judaism is (and does) in the 21st century, I like to think that I became a little more of a mensch after my summer in Or Tzedek. But don’t take my word for it. Experience Or Tzedek for yourself. Just be forewarned: it may change your life.

Sam is a 2007 Or Tzedek alumnus and proud Jewish Chicagoan, having attended Chicago Public Schools for 13 years before studying at Yale University and graduating in 2014. He currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Studies with a focus in welfare policy.

Last night’s ruling: reflecting on Ferguson and justice

November 25, 2014

By Daniel Kaplan
Community Organizer

Isaiah 58

8. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever goes on it knows no peace.

ח. דֶּרֶךְ שָׁלוֹם לֹא יָדָעוּ וְאֵין מִשְׁפָּט בְּמַעְגְּלֹתָם נְתִיבוֹתֵיהֶם עִקְּשׁוּ לָהֶם כֹּל דֹּרֵךְ בָּהּ לֹא יָדַע שָׁלוֹם:


Photograph by Sarah Jane Rhee.

Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri chose not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black unarmed teenager. As a Jewish organization dedicated to ending systemic racism in Chicago, we believe it’s important for the Jewish community to pause and reflect on how we must respond.

Jewish tradition teaches that  humankind is created in the image of God, B’tselem Elohim. From this we learn, quite simply, that all lives matter. As Jews living in the United States, we have an obligation to not only affirm that all lives matter, but specifically black lives matter. Last night, I joined hundreds of black community members and allies in anticipation of the grand jury decision. Standing outside a  police station on 35th and Michigan, I heard youth activists recall the names of countless black men and women whose lives had been prematurely extinguished.  In addition to Michael Brown we remembered Roshad McIntosh, who was shot by Chicago police in August under similar circumstances. We remembered Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy shot by police in Cleveland last weekend. We remembered Marissa Alexander, a victim of domestic violence who will serve three years in prison and have a lifetime felon status because she fired a warning shot away from her attacker. We remembered Trayvon Martin.  All black, and all killed, incarcerated, or otherwise failed by predominantly white juries and white law enforcement.

While all lives matter, we must specifically uphold black lives because of our society’s systemic devaluation of their worth. Speakers from last night’s demonstration drew connections between last night’s decision to the United States’ history of commodifying black life. From slavery to sharecropping to redlining and exploitative housing contracts to the prison industrial complex, these recent episodes of police brutality fit into a centuries-old legacy.  A group called “We Charge Genocide” recently testified to the United Nations Committee Against Torture about police brutality in Chicago and the United States. Last night’s grand jury decision was not a tragic episode, but rather another product of a deeply ingrained system that exploits and dehumanizes black bodies and minds.

We must always remember that to pursue justice means to shine a light on structural racism and inequality however and whenever we can. When JCUA sang for a trauma center in September, we did so because we understand that systemic racism in Chicago has deprived entire swaths of the city a fundamental medical service. When we support immigrants seeking sanctuary, we do so because we recognize that economic and political forces pressure people to immigrate whether or not our immigration policy allows them to. When we stand with workers seeking redress for wage theft, we do so because we know our economic policies have created staggering wealth inequality and privileged the profits of corporate executives over the rights of the working class. Everything we do at JCUA is connected to a systemic injustice, and without calling out these systems we cannot pursue justice.

Today, let us take a moment to pause from our regular programs and campaigns to reflect on this travesty. As we take a moment to truly feel for Michael Brown, his family, and so many other extinguished black lives, let us recommit to our work with an intention to end to perpetuation of systemic injustices across our city.

Turn ‘Just’ Words into Action

November 24, 2014

A message from Nikki and Bud…

Fifty years is a long time. Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning or are new to JCUA, 1964 or 2014 or anywhere in between, we have ALWAYS been about people. JCUA not only makes a difference to the directly impacted communities we work with, but also in Chicago’s Jewish community. Everyone involved finds their lives are enhanced in ways they never imagined.

BLAH BLAH BLAH. Those are just words. What do they mean? How do we do this? When you see the senseless gun violence, the inhumane treatment of detainees, unsafe and unaffordable housing across our city, do you wonder: Where do I start? How can I take action? Will it make a difference?

You’re not alone. A lot of people share your concerns, your fears and your hopes for a better Chicago. A lot of people don’t know where to start. We know.

JCUA transforms us AND our city. It’s where you can pray with your feet, have an impact on root causes, and be a part of a community that elevates the Jewish values that compel us to raise up the voices of Chicago’s most vulnerable.

Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $50,000.

Your gift in this milestone year makes a difference. Not just to JCUA and the communities we partner with, but for you and people like you who are hungry for change.

Thank you for standing with us, and best wishes for a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving,

Nikki Stein and Bud Lifton
Co-chairs, JCUA 50th Anniversary Committee

#GivingTuesday: Igniting a Spark Within Jewish Teens

November 18, 2014

By Deborah Goldberg
Coordinator of Teen Programs

Deborah Goldberg

I have the best job in the whole world. As the coordinator of teen programs at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, I get to do what I love—my job is to engage teens in social justice work within a Jewish context. On my first day of work at JCUA, Rebecca, who held this job before me, shared with me the history of Or Tzedek. I was simultaneously awed by our past and excited for our future.

JCUA wants to reach teens in as many ways as possible. Since its inception in 2007, Or Tzedek has run a summer program that has reached hundreds of teens. (Registration is now open for our summer 2015 sessions!)

Last year, Or Tzedek partnered with Evanston’s Beth Emet the Free Synagogue to launch Or Tzedek: Year of Action. Nearly 50 teens came together for the year to learn about root causes of social injustice in Chicago and then participated in a gun violence prevention campaign, advocating for an amendment to the Concealed Carry Act that would ban guns in houses of worship.

Next February, Or Tzedek will partner with Chicagoland Jewish High School to run a three-day activism and advocacy retreat for its junior class. The 40 students of CJHS’s junior class will have an extraordinary opportunity to learn from JCUA’s community partners, connect social justice issues to Jewish values and history, and meet with state and federal representatives to advocate for issues they care about.

Support Or Tzedek on Giving Tuesday

This Dec. 2, JCUA will participate in Giving Tuesday, a global movement dedicated to giving back. This upcoming Giving Tuesday, JCUA is raising funds for scholarship dollars to make Or Tzedek accessible to all teens. Our fundraising goal is $5,000 and we’re thrilled that a generous donor has agreed to match all scholarship donations dollar for dollar until we reach our $5,000 goal.

When I think about Or Tzedek, I think about the incredible teens I get to work with. “Or Tzedek” means “Light of Justice,” and I know that the work our teens engage in helps make the world a more just place. I also know that Or Tzedek ignites a spark within Jewish teens, and whether they go on to be leaders in their youth groups and high schools, community organizers and activists, or precinct committeeman (Or Tzedek alumni have done all of those things!), they leave the program as different people than the ones who entered it.

I want every teen to have that opportunity. 

You don’t have to wait until “Giving Tuesday” to support Or Tzedek—make a donation today.


JCUA November Newsletter

November 6, 2014

In the November issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • Hopeful news for Beatriz Santiago Ramirez.
  • JCUA to present at Limmud Chicago.
  • Interfaith vigil at Broadview Detention Center.
  • Legislation to require safe storage for guns to be discussed.
  • Or Tzedek and hot chocolate.
  • JCUA joins the #GivingTuesday movement in support of teen programs

Read it now!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,493 other followers

%d bloggers like this: