49 Years Later, Does America Still Have a Dream? A Look to the Midrash

August 28, 2012

by Asaf Bar-Tura, Director of Programs
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

49 years ago – August 28, 1963 – 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. It was here that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The March on Washington DC in 1963

The midrash says that a person may walk through 49 gates of impurity, but once one crosses the 50th, one cannot be redeemed. It is said that while in slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were in such dire straits, that they had crossed “49 gates of impurity.” Hence, the midrash teaches, we count 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, when the Torah was given. These 49 days redeem us back from slavery to liberation – passing through 49 gates of sanctification.

It has been 49 years since the march and the speech. Let us not cross into a 50th year of rampant poverty, racial inquality, and economic injustice… Let us make our way back through the gates, toward a truly moral society. Join JCUA in doing what’s right, not what’s easy, as we pursue justice in partnership with Chicago’s diverse communities.

The journey is long. But we shall overcome.



Chicago-Area Rabbis Urge Sen. Mark Kirk to Support DREAM Act

December 15, 2010

By Jonathan Lehrer
Director of Communications, JCUA

Many Chicago-area rabbis have signed on to a letter urging Sen. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) to support the DREAM Act.

Read the letter and see the list of signers here

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act–also called the DREAM Act, is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation.

The letter says, in part:

The DREAM Act is an urgently needed response to many thousands of young members of our society who have grown up among us yet are not granted the same rights as their peers, as a result of decisions that they themselves did not make.

The letter signed by the rabbis will be sent to Kirk next week because he has indicated his opposition to the measure. Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) is a co-sponsor.

The DREAM Act passed the House on Dec. 8 and could be voted on by the Senate next week.

Want to urge Sen. Kirk to support the bill? Call his office: (202) 225-4835.

Impact of the DREAM Act

  • 65,000 DREAM students graduate high school every year.
  • An estimated $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years would be created in new revenue for the economy by DREAM Students.
  • As many as 1.2 million to 2.1 million young people would be affected by the law.

Supporters of the DREAM Act believe it is vital not only to the people who would benefit from it, but also the United States as a whole. For those undocumented immigrant students who have been living in the U.S. since they were young, the DREAM Act would provide a chance to contribute back to the country that has given so much to them and an opportunity to use their hard earned education and talents.


Major Jewish Organizations Unite for Historic Voter Initiative

October 4, 2010

Define America 2010 - Jewish Campaign to Get Out the Vote

Introducing Define America 2010, the First Coordinated, Multi-City Voter Engagement Effort of Its Kind Mobilizes the Jewish Community, Voters and Volunteers in Seven Major Metro Areas

OCT. 4, 2010 — In recognition of the importance of this year’s midterm elections, five members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJR) are joining forces to launch the Roundtable’s first major initiative: Define America 2010.

This collaboration is the first national coordinated voter outreach effort of its kind from the Jewish community. Working across lines of race and faith, the Roundtable’s Define America 2010 initiative will give people opportunities to register voters, talk to people about the issues they care about, and turn out to vote.

Read the rest of this entry »


Faith Leaders Call on Washington Leaders for Renewed Public Housing Efforts

August 9, 2010

Fifty faith-based leaders, including JCUA Executive Director Jane Ramsey, gathered in Washington, D.C. July 29 to voice their concerns on the state of the nation’s public housing with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan.

At the forefront of the discussion were concerns with newly introduced HUD legislation would call for moving public housing units to the private sector. The Preservation, Enhancement, and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act of 2010 (PETRA) would be:

“A multi-year effort to transform properties with rental assistance contracts under various programs into properties with long-term, property-based sustainable rental assistance contracts that include flexibility to address capital requirements, to enhance resident choice, and to streamline and simplify the administration of rental assistance.”

-Department of Housing and Urban Development

Hud Secretary Shaun Donovan

From a Chicagoan standpoint, the words “transform” or “transformation” with regards to the issue of public housing are likely to induce thoughts of the city’s plan for transformation, which displaced thousands of families.

The thought that the proposed HUD legislation could lead to further losses of housing for vulnerable families, said Ramsey to HUD Secretary Donovan, “would be unacceptable.”

Donovan said HUD is looking to build safeguards into the legislation to prevent housing losses, but was unclear as to what those safeguards might look like.

What does seem more certain in HUD plans, however, is a shift back to making sure those displaced by public housing redevelopment are the first placed back in newly developed housing, and a shift back to one-for-one replacement of public housing– meaning that public housing units won’t be torn down until there are new units to replace them.

Both Ramsey and other leaders at the HUD meeting expressed the overall need to bring back a national commitment to housing development that will reach our society’s most vulnerable.

Learn more about JCUA’s housing work here.


Jewish Leaders Meet in D.C. to Talk About Combating Anti-Semitism at Reception Honoring Hannah Rosenthal

July 14, 2010

Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, addresses guests at reception hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (pictured in background).

Jewish leaders from across the country gathered July 13 to honor Hannah Rosenthal, special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism at a reception hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. Jane Ramsey, executive director of JCUA; Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.); Betsy Brill, president of Strategic Philanthropy; and Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of The Jewish Federations of North America, were amongst the some 300 at the event.

Betsy Brill (from left), Lois Lipton, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Susan Winer, Jane Ramsey

Prior to her appointment as special envoy, Rosenthal headed the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and also spent time as executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women. Since her appointment Rosenthal has participated in various events across the country and overseas in an effort to raise awareness of anti-Semitism as well as remind people of the urgency involved in combating the issue—something which also happens to be a core part of JCUA’s mission. Rosenthal’s enthusiasm for her work, said Ramsey, was evident during her speech at the reception.

“What was inspiring to me was the passion she reflected regarding the meaningfulness and importance of the Jewish community speaking out and building strong relationships across culture and faith, and the significance these actions and the relevance of that core principle in the work of JCUA,” said Ramsey.

(Learn more about JCUA’s work in human rights.)


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