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
donation.
» 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.


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


Or Tzedek Teen Honored as a Jewish Chicagoan of the Year

November 4, 2014

Joel Spiegel listed in the Guide to Jewish Chicago

joel-spiegel-chicago-jewish-newsHe’s attended courtroom deportation hearings, participated in vigils for immigrant rights, been named Youth of the Year at his synagogue, successfully run for precinct committeeman in his town, worked to help Democrats win congressional seats.

And he’s only 18 years old.

Joel Spiegel, a recent graduate of Stevenson High School in Buffalo Grove, says he has been interested in social justice advocacy for as long as he can remember but never had an outlet for his passion.

That changed in 2012 when Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs came to speak at Spiegel’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, about Or Tzedek, JCUA’s summer teen activism program.

“With everything she was saying, I was nodding my head,” the well-spoken and enthusiastic Spiegel says.

Joel was listed as one of 10 Jewish Chicagoans of the Year in the Guide to Jewish Chicago, published recently by Chicago Jewish News.

» Read the complete profile of Joel, written by Pauline Yearwood


JCUA: Making a Difference Through Jewish Identity

August 7, 2014

By Zoe Reinstein
JCUA Summer Intern

Zoe Reinstein, summer intern at JCUA

Zoe Reinstein, summer intern. Learn more about JCUA’s internship program here.

Let’s be clear. Waking up at 7 am during your summer vacation is annoying. That is, unless you’re interning for JCUA. The first day, I begrudgingly and half-asleep showed up for work at the office of this 50-year-old social justice organization. It took very little time at all to realize how incredible this experience was going to be when I picked up the phone, and it was the governor’s office calling JCUA.

During my time here, I had the pleasure of helping with logistics for the “Acts of Change” 50th anniversary gala and planning “Iftar in the Synagogue.” I helped to organize a JCUA delegation to an interfaith vigil hosted by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network vigil for the families of deportees at the Broadview Detention Center, followed by a meaningful interfaith discussion over coffee.

These experiences have taught me that there is nothing more exhilarating than feeling like you are actually making a difference because of your Jewish identity, which would have been impossible anywhere other than JCUA. I have seen how much effort goes in to making change, but that it is equally as worth it as it is difficult.

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JCUA Organizing for Change: What’s Our Process?

July 28, 2014

Click here to become a member today!

JCUA’s budding membership program is only the first step in a much larger process of effectively and actively engaging in social justice from a Jewish perspective. In fact, it is a part of a larger organizing model that ends with JCUA members leading vibrant, unique campaigns that address the root causes of racism and poverty in Illinois.

organizing model image

Click here to read more about JCUA’s organizing process

The first step is getting to know our members’ passions and invest in them as leaders. That’s the step we’re engaged in currently. This stage is centered around meetings with individual members and regular, larger-scale member meetings. Our next meeting is coming up on Thursday, Aug. 7. Through these get-togethers, we’re learning what issues motivate the JCUA community.  We’re also growing the capacity of individuals to lead and implement future campaigns.

Sign up here to be a part of the upcoming meeting! 

As we invigorate JCUA’s base, our campaign work will  become increasingly strong and more effective. At our last meeting, we shared an outline of questions JCUA asks when shaping actions around a specific issue. Among other things, we assess whether our involvement stems from the needs of a community directly impacted by the issue and whether the action addresses root causes. We also ask what we as JCUA can best contribute and how the potential campaign will inspire our Jewish community to take action.

JCUA member image

Finally, as we commit to campaigns, JCUA continues to hold our core values closely. We ask ourselves how our continued work remains inclusive of individuals and communities directly impacted by the issue, how our work strengthens relationships between communities, individuals and organizations involved, and whether our campaign has a clear, time-bound goal.

For more information:

Read more about JCUA’s organizing criteria.

► Join us on the 7th for our next membership meeting.

► Sign up to be a member here.


Daniel Kaplan, Community Organizer, Joins JCUA Staff

March 4, 2014

Daniel Kaplan, community organizer for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Daniel Kaplan grew up in Chicago with a passion for tzedek and social justice.

That would be just about the perfect combination for a position at JCUA. He began his new career with us this week as a community organizer.

“I’m thrilled to be working with an organization as venerable as JCUA. It’s an honor to join the staff at JCUA’s 50th anniversary,” says Daniel. “I’m looking forward to this exciting opportunity as we recommit to advancing a just vision for the city of Chicago.”

Daniel graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. with a BA in Race and Ethnic Studies, concentrating on Postcolonial Studies and the Middle East. He returned to Chicago to live in a Moishe House and help build a young Jewish community rooted in social justice. Since then, he has become an active member of Mishkan Chicago, and organizes with Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools.

“During my time in Chicago I’ve seen JCUA organize strategically, build valuable relationships, and take risks in the name of social justice,” Daniel says. “From civil disobedience in the name of immigration reform to mobilizing the Jewish community around A Better Illinois to standing with Muslim community organizations against Islamophobia, JCUA is advancing a pluralistic and universal definition of tzedek that shapes my values and approach to organizing.”

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Rabbi Ben Greenberg Joins JCUA Staff; Seder Set for April

January 30, 2014

Be a Part of JCUA’s Next 50

Judy LeveyFrom Judy Levey, Executive Director

Before this frozen January concludes, we want to thank you for making 2013 a resounding success. Your generosity allowed JCUA to enter 2014 with strong footing and an expanding road map for building our momentum.

Whether you are interested in immigration reform, responding to gun violence, a fair state tax structure, community investment, or building bridges with communities that face poverty and racism, JCUA is creating spaces for you to get involved, develop leadership skills, and get to know your city.

Rabbi Ben Greenberg Joins JCUA Staff

Greenberg

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