Or Tzedek Participant, Joel Spiegel, Receives Youth of the Year Award from Beth Judea

February 28, 2014

1907817_10151985263673175_757371701_oJewish youth activist Joel Spiegel received the Youth of the Year Award from Congregation Beth Judea at the regional dinner sponsored by the Midwest region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

Joel has been a leader in Or Tzedek, participating in Or Tzedek’s “Activism and Community Organizing” in summer 2012 and “Advanced Activism” in summer 2013.  Joel is currently running for precinct committeeman in Buffalo Grove and is a senior at Stevenson High School.

In his acceptance speech, Joel named  Or Tzedek as one of his major influences, stating, ” I wouldn’t not be here today if it weren’t for Marc Sender, Joan Smith, and Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs continuing to push me to be the very best I can be.”

894446_10151985268193175_2060826368_oJoel has a gift for engaging people with a diversity of backgrounds and connecting across both similarities and differences. His genuine interest in people’s experiences allows them to open up and share their perspective.  He is truly a community builder.

Joel models the inclusive and supportive behavior necessary for a powerful community. He has the important, but too often rare, leadership quality of offering the support and guidance necessary for others to step out of their comfort zones and discover their own leadership capabilities.

Mazel Tov, Joel!

Community Development Projects Supported by JCUA Receive Driehaus Foundation Awards

February 28, 2014

By Judy Levey
JCUA Executive Director

At an event known as the Oscars of community development in Chicago, two projects supported by JCUA won awards last week.

It was the 20th anniversary of the annual Community and Neighborhood Development Awards. Ten projects received awards acknowledging significant real estate developments, architecture, community organizing and individual achievements in a variety of areas. 

Two of the projects were supported, in part, by zero-interest loans from JCUA’s Community Ventures Program. Landon Bone Baker Architects was the award-winning firm in both cases. Both of these projects won Richard H. Driehaus Foundation awards for architectural excellence.  

Gracie’s Café

Last year, JCUA assisted St. Leonard’s Ministries on the start-up of Gracie’s Café, a component of Harvest Commons which provides job training to formerly incarcerated people living in the building.  The café, located at 1517 W. Warren Blvd., is now operating and adds to the vibrancy of the development and neighborhood.

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(Guest Post) Rabbi Russo and Diverse Faith Leaders Call for Fair Tax

February 25, 2014

Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue, delivered a powerful speech about the Jewish community’s responsibility to combat poverty at the “A Better Illinois”  interfaith service to call on politicians in Springfield to move forward on progressive income tax legislation. Speakers included Imam Matthew Ramadan, Rev. Booker Vance, Rev. Otis Moss III,  and Bishop Alberto Rojas. Full text of Rabbi Russo’s speech is printed below. Learn more about JCUA’s work on “A Better Illinois.”

By Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue

photo 1 (2)One of the central projects of the Five Books of Moses, or the Torah, is to transform our personal narratives into a greater sense of empathy and moral responsibility. The starkest example of this is when the text repeats the refrain, “ki eved hayita be’eretz mitzrayim”- for you were once a slave in the land of Egypt.

The Torah seeks to transform us into people  who see those who are vulnerable and exposed and act towards creating a more just society (based on a teaching of Rabbi Shai Held).

This same theme manifests itself in a line that is known to most Jews, recited in a daily prayer. We pray every day, to a God who is “hagadol, hagibor, vehanora, el elyon” – a God who is supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.

But what most people do not know is the continuation of this verse from the Book of Deuteronomy,

“God shows no favor and takes no bribe, but rather God upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

1620457_10152199202594000_349293273_nThe text begins by praising God as “great, mighty, and awesome.” Of what does God’s greatness, mightiness, and awesomeness consist? According to these verses, not of God’s having created the world, and not of God’s having demonstrated God’s ability to smite God’s enemies. No, God’s grandeur is rooted in God’s fairness, a God who shows no favor and takes no bribe, a God who champions the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden.

Today we are gathering to uphold this very biblical precept – that so long as any person in our community is without food, without clothing, without schooling, without housing, without safety, without security, then none of us are truly free. For our freedom is intertwined together. And only when have cared for all in this great city can we truly say that we are a sacred community, together walking in God’s ways.

Religious and Faith Leaders Demand a Progressive Income Tax

February 24, 2014

With only 70 days before deadline to pass the Fair Tax Act, over 100 religious & faith leaders say that Illinois’ elected officials must take swift action to prevent the state’s budget collapse for education, healthcare, and vital human services that support low-income and working families. JCUA, Arise Chicago, Community Renewal Society, SEIU, and other coalition partners have organized this interfaith service. Join us on Feb. 25, 10:30 am, at the Chicago Temple. 

logo-hoverChicago, IL – Approximately 100 religious and faith leaders are expected at an interfaith service at the Chicago Temple on Tuesday to call on politicians in Springfield to move forward on legislation to create a Fair Tax in Illinois, with lower tax rates for lower incomes and higher rates for higher incomes.

People of faith feel compelled to act due to the injustice of Illinois’ tax code, where lower and middle income families pay a tax rate that is more than twice that of the very rich, when considering all state and local taxes paid.  They are deeply concerned that without fundamental budget reform that includes a Fair Tax, the looming fiscal cliff in Springfield will bring irreparable harm to Illinois’ most vulnerable communities – including children, seniors, and the poor – and impose intense suffering for years to come.

The revenue lost from expiration of the 2011 temporary income tax increase is projected to create an additional $2 billion hole on top of the state’s $6 billion in unpaid bills.

The broad and diverse coalition of faith leaders supporting a Fair Tax will speak to the urgency for action by leaders in Springfield on Tuesday, and will include representatives from Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Muslim, and Jewish teachings.  More than 225 faith leaders from across the state have joined the coalition to date.

Jewish Youth Organizing for Gun Control

February 13, 2014
hannah, paulina, and jonahOr Tzedek and Beth Emet’s Jewish organizing  teen program chose by consensus to work on the campaign to ban guns in houses of worship, led by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence with JCUA , Fierce Women of Faith, and other community partners.

 >>>Read about the campaign here.<<<

From our action planning session, we decided that the target of our action plan will be 59th District State Rep. Carol Sente. With nineteen synagogues in her state congressional district, there is a great opportunity here to organize a strong Jewish voice for control legislation.
>>>Want to be a part of Or Tzedek? Learn more and register for Or Tzedek’s summer programs.<<<

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur time-bound goal will be to move Rep. Sente to vote for the gun control legislation.The tactics we will be using are canvassing (going door to door and engaging residents in her district) and planning a town hall meeting.

The next step will be to split into action teams, in charge of different components of the campaign from outreach and communications to planning actions and connecting with our community partners.

Additionally, it was smartly brought up at the retreat that, to become a powerful, united community, we needed a singular name for the Or Tzedek and Beth Emet Jewish organizing program. So we have decided on Or Emet, a combination of Or Tzedek and Beth Emet that means “light of truth” in Hebrew.

Or Tzedek and Beth Emet Youth Build Power and Community

February 6, 2014

As a part of Or Tzedek and Beth Emet’s joint Jewish organizing program, thirty-six teens came together over the weekend to learn about JCUA’s two social justice campaigns about gun violence and economic justice.  At this overnight retreat, the participants’ passion for creating change in their city and thoughtful approach to choosing a campaign demonstrated their power as a community of powerful Jewish youth. 

1604381_475068609264027_336993884_nWe hear stories of gun violence and poverty in the media and see food deserts and homelessness on the streets of our city. Over the course of Or Tzedek’s summer sessions, many of us have built relationships and acted in solidarity with Chicago’s directly impacted communities. Organizers, teens and religious leaders from different neighborhoods organizations, like Growing Home, Imagine Englewood If.., Fierce Women of Faith, Immigrant Youth Justice League, took the time to meet with us and teach us about their social justice work.

1555476_478157592288462_58978486_nLearning about systemic oppression and institutionalized racism during Or Tzedek, many of us can often feel powerless in the face of these entrenched systems of inequality. But this year long program is opportunity for us to act, as Jews, as Chicagoans, and as young people, for justice in our city. Choosing and working on one of JCUA’s critical campaigns over the next five months is the opportunity to make a real difference as joint, powerful community. Read the rest of this entry »

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


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