The Family Immigration Stories of Six Jewish U.S. Representatives (And Why One Of Them Got Arrested)

October 24, 2013

The U.S. Senate passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation in June 2013. Since then, this important legislation has been stuck in the House of Representatives. So we decided to highlight the immigration stories behind the members of the House.

Rep. Schakowsky arrested (10/8/13)

Rep. Schakowsky arrested (10/8/13)

As a member of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, JCUA partnered with Jewish organizations around the country to compile the family immigration stories of six Jewish U.S. Representatives, including Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9th District).

JCUA interviewed Rep. Schakowsky in summer 2013 for this project. She said:

My grandmother and grandfather were able to do just what they wanted which was to get a better life for themselves and their children. Those are the opportunities that I want for the immigrants today.

(Read the stories of six Jewish U.S. Representatives here)

On October 8, 2013 Rep. Schakowsky participated in an action of civil disobedience, to highlight the urgency of passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform. When reflecting on why she decided to get arrested that day, she wrote:

As someone who represents one of the most diverse districts in Illinois with a large immigrant populations representing countries in every corner of the globe, I have seen firsthand the consequences of our broken immigration system — families tragically separated, workers unfairly and dangerously exploited, young people denied opportunities to serve their country, and the stress of living with the constant fear of deportation. Immigration reform is for those thousands of people in my district and the millions of people across the country who want nothing more than to work hard, provide for their families, and reach for the American Dream.

But immigration reform is important not just for the 11 million people living in the shadows without documentation. It would significantly boost our overall economy. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, enactment of the bipartisan Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill would reduce the deficit by $850 billion, and would increase economic growth by an estimated 3.3 percent in 2023.

As I sat in the police station and looked around at all the people who were expressing their commitment to changing a hopelessly broken law through their civil disobedience, I was proud to join them. As a first generation American myself, I know that comprehensive immigration reform is good for our country. I know it will reduce our deficit, grow out economy, reaffirm our values, advance our ideals, and honor our history as a nation of immigrants. It’s time for a vote.


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.


Interfaith Press Conference Opposing the National Defense Authorization Act

December 16, 2011

Dec. 15, 2011 marked the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. On this day Asaf Bar-Tura represented the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs at an interfaith press conference opposing the provisions allowing indefinite detention in the National Defense Authorization Act. These were his words at the press conference:

“Throughout the ages the Jewish community believed, and still believes, that we ought to guide ourselves in the tradition of our prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and others – who stood steadfast in the gates of the city, said what some did not want to here. The prophets, those who speak truth to power, are often vulnerable, marginalized, isolated.

Throughout the history of this country, the rights to due process, to legal representation, to a fair trial – have all been the last defenses available to those most vulnerable and discriminated among us. The Jewish people remember all too well what can happen when people are stripped of their own rights, in their own land. When the light of justice, of just laws and institutions is dimmed, then civility is abandoned and darkness prevails.

President Obama: in a few days the Jewish community will begin lighting candles in celebration of Hanukkah. We say that we create light to drive away the darkness of our times. In these days we remember the times when we were oppressed, our freedoms taken away, and we rededicate ourselves in this season to the struggle to live freely.

We urge you today to drive away the darkness. Stand up for civil rights. Stand up for human rights. Do not – in the name of the fight against terrorism – bring terror into our communities. Defend all Americans. Veto this bill.”

Other speakers at the press conference included:

Alie Kabba
Executive Director, United African Organization
Board President, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Sufyan Sohel
Deputy Director, CAIR-Chicago

Imam Misbahudeen Ahmed Rufai
Executive Board Member, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago
Professor of History, Malcolm X College

Maaria Muzaffar
Muslim Bar Association

Rev. Larry Greenfield
Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago

Razan Abu-Hashish
Activist, Immigrant Youth Justice League


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.


Hanukkah at the White House

December 3, 2010

Faith and perseverance were the words that echoed through the halls of the White House last night (Dec. 2, 2010) as the President, Vice President and First Lady celebrated the second night of Hanukkah with about 500 guests from across the country, including several Chicagoans– JCUA’s Jane Ramsey and Rabbi Capers and Rabbinit Miriam Funnye of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken.

From left to right: Lewis Rice, Jane Ramsey, Rabbinit Miriam Funnye, Rabbi Capers Funnye

“The tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance,” said President Obama addressing guests at the celebration. [Read the President's full remarks at the event]

One symbol of faith and perseverance was the menorah used for the celebration, which was loaned to the White House by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. It was found caked in dirt and mold during the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina, in which the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water.

“[The menorah] stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future,” said President Obama.

Another symbol of faith and perseverance was Susan Retik and her family, who endured the loss of Susan’s husband David in 9/11. After being acknowledged by the President, the Retik Family performed the ritual of lighting the candles and ended with a sax solo of “Rock of Ages.”

Happy Hanukkah from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and may this holiday season bring you joy and blessings.

Jane Ramsey and Vice President Joe Biden

More coverage of Hanukkah at the White House:

Sun-Times– Obama White House Hanukkah Party: Kosher sushi, latkes, “Rock of Ages” sax solo

Politico– White House hosts Hanukkah party

The Jewish Week– Chanukah at the White House- with 1/3 of the Supreme Court



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 »


At the White House for the Communal Iftar Meal

August 16, 2010

By Jane Ramsey
Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

White House Iftar Meal

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began last week, it was my pleasure and honor to take part in a special interfaith iftar meal at the White House hosted by President Obama.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast until sundown every day, then break the fast with a communal meal called iftar, usually shared with family and friends, along with invited guests of all backgrounds and faiths. According to sources, similar to Yom Kippur for Jews, fasting provides the opportunity for a Muslim to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him/her and to purify his/her heart and soul. As well, good deeds are multiplied manifold during Ramadan.

Nearly 90 members of the administration, community representatives and foreign heads of state attended the White House iftar.

A commitment to religious freedom

Sharing with Muslim friends many times over the years, I have come to deeply appreciate the significance of participating in one another’s traditions, learning, growing and deepening our understanding and our friendships. These are among the small acts of support that embody the foundation enabling us, ultimately, to act together to create healthy and just communities and to jointly tackle Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

JCUA's Jane Ramsey with the president at the White House iftar meal.

JCUA's Jane Ramsey with the president at the White House iftar meal.

Indeed, by hosting an iftar in the White House, as he has a Passover seder and other observances, the president is signaling respect for each faith tradition, and a depth of commitment to religious freedom and tolerance.

Joining me from the Jewish community at the iftar was Hannah Rosenthal, who recently was appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, for the state department, and who also serves as rabbi in her hometown of Madison, Wis.

The evening brought many opportunities for personal interaction as well as interesting, touching and powerful moments from the backdrop of this extraordinary residence.

Read the rest of this entry »


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