On Rosh Hashanah, New Beginnings Bring New Resolutions

September 24, 2014

By Nate Seeskin
AVODAH Organizing Fellow, JCUA

Nate SeeskinSeptember marks two new beginnings for me with the coming of the Jewish New Year and my starting as an Organizing Fellow at JCUA. This is not just another year where I look to improve myself, but one where I look to engage with my new community.

Many people look to the High Holidays as an opportunity to reflect on how they can improve themselves. As an organizing fellow I understand that in order to effectively attend to outside factors in our lives, such as family and work, self-care and reflection are essential.

Along with the emphasis on self-improvement, there should be equal weight placed on the betterment of community (Tikkun Olam) and social justice (Tzedek). I moved to Chicago last month largely because I considered it like a second home throughout my life with the personal connections I have here. Yet I can also relate to this city because of its many similarities to my home city, St. Louis. Both are steeped in rich traditions (especially baseball and food) and have a special type of folksy flavor that you cannot find on either coast.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At the same time, both cities are plagued with problems like gun violence and police brutality. Disparities in access to resources are rampant, whether it be the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri or the shortage of emergency health care on the South Side of Chicago. These problems are only symptomatic of a broader problem: segregation. Last year, St. Louis and Chicago were respectively ranked as the sixth and seventh most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. Within this ranking, 12 of the 25 most racially segregated American cities are in the Midwest. As the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is prime battleground for our fight for social justice.

Social justice plays a foundational role of Jewish faith and communal expression. Our history is one of both persecution and perseverance and in our annual period of reflection, we must not take for granted the world around us.

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Jewish Values Stand With The Workers of Golan’s Moving and Storage

August 22, 2014

Rabbi Ben Greenberg

For almost a month the workers of Skokie, Ill. based Golan’s Moving and Storage have been on strike. The nearly 80 employees of the locally owned moving company voted to form a union at the end of 2013 in response to numerous unfair labor practices and outright reports of illegal activities. For example, there are currently 10 complaints of wage theft against the company under active investigation at the Department of Labor. Workers would be told to work a 14 hour day but only get paid for 8 of those hours. Since organizing as a union the employees have been unsuccessful in multiple attempts to negotiate a contract with the owners. The owners have cancelled negotiation dates nearly 6 times. All of this behavior is clearly in violation of not only ethics but of Jewish law and Jewish values.

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Justice for Hyatt Workers

July 3, 2013

hyatt pic

July 3, 2013

By Rabbi Ali Abrams

Director of Organizing

This week, UNITE HERE announced a tentative agreement between Hyatt workers and Hyatt Corporation that would increase workers’ wages and improve benefits. The agreement covers workers in four U.S. cities-including Chicago- through 2018.

For four long years, Hyatt workers in Chicago and across the nation have been organizing with UNITE-HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada, for better working conditions and dignity at their jobs.  Hyatt had mistreated housekeepers and other hotel workers, replaced longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remained.  In August 2010 JCUA Founder Rabbi Robert Marx and more than 250 other Jewish leaders nationwide signed a pledge to support the Hyatt workers. Several members of the Jewish community, including JCUA, have stood with the Hyatt workers over time.  Our Or Tzedek teens have interned with UNITE-HERE and have met with workers to learn about working conditions and the power of organizing.  Through delegations to Hyatt management, interfaith services, and rallies, we have helped to broadcast that treating workers unjustly is an affront to Jewish values.

On July 23, 2012 workers declared a global boycott as a way to put pressure on the Hyatt Corporation to change its ways.  Through the courageous efforts of these workers- with support from the broader community- UNITE HERE and Hyatt were able to come to a tentative agreement yesterday. Once ratified, the agreement will provide back wages to workers beginning from 2009 and an increase in wages through 2018.  (For more details the agreement, click here).

As multi-national corporations gain more power and the income gap widens, workers have to fight harder than ever for fair contracts, good working conditions, and the right to organize.  The Hyatt boycott teaches us something very important:  Boycotts are one of the most powerful tools workers have to influence employers.  Workers rely on the support of consumers to have an impact.  Like a strike or picket line, boycotts become necessary when employers refuse to respond to attempts at creating change in the workplace.  As allies who value justice and the fair treatment of workers, it is our obligation to uphold a boycott in the same way we would respect a picket line.

Jewish tradition conveys a clear respect for work and workers and places great emphasis on employer-employee relationships that are grounded in the recognition of every person’s dignity and worth.  At JCUA, we celebrate this important victory for worker justice and are proud to stand in solidarity with workers in our city.



Postville Remembrance Day – May 10

April 24, 2013


JCUA marches in solidarity with the people of Postville, Iowa, 2008.

JCUA marches in solidarity with the people of Postville, Iowa, 2008.  » See more photos

On Friday, May 10, 2013 a gathering commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid will take place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The purpose of the event is to remember the 389 persons who were arrested on May 12, 2008, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices, and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies.  JCUA was very involved in the efforts five years ago and we continue to be committed to worker and immigrant justice.

The event will begin at noon with a remembrance ritual in front of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, 111 7th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.

A “Walk for Justice” will follow at approximately 12:20 p.m. to Immaculate Conception Church, 857 3rd Ave. SE.  Here an interfaith prayer for reconciliation and a call for reform of our immigration policies will take place around 1:00 p.m. The assembly is being planned by a wide coalition of those involved in the response to the raid as well as those affected.  It will include immigrants who were part of the 2008 raid, church representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, lawyers who saw the injustice of the system, as well as others who are concerned about immigration reform.

The remembrance ritual is being held in front of the federal courthouse because of the court’s role in the raid and its significance to the ongoing national conversation about immigration.  Postville was one of the largest raids in American history and it devastated families and ripped an entire community apart.  We now must move forward to make sure Congress takes the necessary action to reform our immigration system—making sure we provide a path to citizenship, protect workers and end raids.

More information is at www.lirs/postville-anniversary.


If you are interested in going to Cedar Rapids with JCUA, please contact Rabbi Ali Abrams at alison@jcua.org.


Guest Op-Ed: JCUA Teen Leader on the CTU Strike

September 13, 2012

by Sophie Leff

Sophie Leff (left) at a JCUA event

The following is an op-ed piece by Sophie Leff, a junior at Northside College Prep. Sophie did Or Tzedek’s Activism and Community Organizing  summer program in 2011 and Advanced Activism in 2012. She was a part of the leadership team who planned Or Tzedek’s first Winter Leadership Retreat in 2011. Sophie is currently the Social Action Vice President of Beth Emet Synagogue Senior Youth.

Sophie writes: “I do not prioritize national standardization. I prioritize safe physical and emotional learning environments; modern, relevant and challenging curricula; abundant and up-to-date instructional materials; and above all, good teachers. This isn’t a message only for CPS, it’s for the State of Illinois. Its negligent school funding (based on property taxes) provides the least amount of resources for those who need it most, and it’s a message for the nation as a whole.”

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