Allyship and the Value of Privilege

August 8, 2014

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Graie teaching Or Tzedek participants about the ladder of oppression

By Graie Barasch-Hagans

Or Tzedek Advanced Activism ’14 Counselor

During two weeks in June, I had the honor of serving on staff for the Advanced Activism session of Or Tzedek working in a community of dedicated youth seeking an active role in achieving Olam Ha’Ba (the world as it should be).

This community, an intentional residential Jewish community, gave us the time and space to intensively practice being individuals united for good. It gave us the space to explore our identity as allies.

As August rolls around, I’ve continued contemplating the role of allyship in creating communities dedicated to change and how allyship relates to my practice of Judaism. Allyship is a complicated task, being an ally asks more than just good intentions of a person.

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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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Harvesting at Growing Home

August 6, 2014
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Noa (from left), Gracee and Rena at Growing Home.

By Rena Newman
Or Tzedek Advanced Activism ’14

Last Thursday, a group of five Or Tzedekers trekked down to the Wood Street Urban Farm – a USDA certified, all-organic garden in Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. As we parked, we could see the rows and rows of kale, chard, and radishes through the chain link. Tomato plants stood dignified in the shade of a hoop-house.

The Wood Street Urban Farm is one of two farms run by the organization, Growing Home. However, their mission isn’t just to prove they have a green thumb. Growing Home delivers tons of fresh produce to an area where there is none; a food desert. Food deserts are neighborhoods that are devoid of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food choices within a mile radius. Instead, these places are riddled with ‘quick marts’, franchises that sell only chips, pop, and snacks.

Food deserts deny people the opportunity to be healthier, and in turn, deny them the opportunity to be happier.  The most unfortunate fact about food deserts is just how common they are in (and around) Chicago. Englewood is considered huge food desert. But the superheroes of Growing Home are combating it, one carrot at a time.

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Why we lament: a JCUA reflection on Tisha b’Av

August 4, 2014
Sara Sandmel Headshot

Sara Sandmel

by Sara Sandmel
JCUA summer intern

Tisha b’Av begins tonight, marking the end of a three week period of mourning on the Jewish calendar. We mourn, traditionally for the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, both of which – according to the Jewish tradition – were destroyed on the ninth day of the month of Av. Most Jews who mark Tisha b’Av do so through a 24 hour fast and reading Lamentations (Eicha). Tisha b’Av is the most devastating day on the Jewish calendar; even the study of Torah is too joyous an occasion for this holiday.

For many Jews, including myself, Tisha b’Av falls through the cracks of the secular, school-based calendar, especially because it lacks any cheery songs that can easily fit into a Hebrew school curriculum. This year, though, for many reasons, I feel an urge to mourn together with my community, to allow myself to experience overwhelming pain and suffering of history. I feel this need, in a large part, because I hear cries of mourning and loss all around me. To prepare, I sat down and read Lamentations for the first time.

Lamentations begins with one question: Why? Why was the Temple destroyed? Why has our community been abandoned to suffer alone? Why do we deserve this fate?  Why does our enemy torment us? The author goes back and forth between a deep anger at God for allowing the destruction of their community and looking inward, asking “what did I  do wrong?”

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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.

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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.


Or Tzedek Registers 200 New Voters

July 24, 2014

10544405_557662764359148_6670906849490635176_nFor the second time in July, Or Tzedek and Jewish Student Connection joined ONE Northside’s Voter Registration campaign to register 5,000 people in Lakeview, Edgewater, Uptown and Rogers Park. Six Or Tzedek participants interned with ONE Northside during Advanced Activism and Or Tzedek youth have continued to work on the campaign throughout the summer. So far, Or Tzedek has registered almost 200 voters with ONE Northside!

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Gun Lobby Appropriating Holocaust Imagery

July 21, 2014

There are debates over policy that are civil and there are debates that are fueled by disrespect, racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism. The new gun store and firing range being proposed in the Chicago suburb of Niles has generated conversation on both sides of the issue. People can have differences of opinion but it is never acceptable to utilize images of Nazis and the Holocaust to make one’s point. One of the largest online gun lobby media outlets, AmmoLand, published a call to action for their supporters that included explicit and offensive Nazi images along with misogynist anti-women language. AmmoLand, along with the Illinois State Rifle Association, are urging their supporters to attend the upcoming Niles Trustees Meeting (Tuesday, July 22nd, 7:00 PM at 1000 Civic Center Drive, Niles, IL) to voice their support for this store and firing range at the final vote on the matter by explicitly attacking women and labeling those who support sensible gun policies as Nazis.

Example of gun lobby Holocaust imagery

The establishment, if opened, will be next door to several schools, including Niles West High School. Business owners have gone on record stating that it will negatively impact their livelihoods and community members testified to the emotional and psychological toll it would take on them hearing bullets being fired all day during business hours. JCUA was present for the second hearing for the special use permit at the Niles Plan Commission Meeting and testified against opening the store in the proposed location. Nonetheless, the Plan Commission voted 5-2 to send the proposal up to the Niles Trustees for a final vote. It is imperative that those who support our kids having a safe neighborhood to go to school in and those who support stopping the flow of guns into the City of Chicago from neighboring suburban gun stores come to this meeting tomorrow and voice their opposition to this gun store. The gun lobby is using fear mongering, hateful and anti-Semitic rhetoric to rouse their supporters to the meeting. We must be present with common sense, clarity and civility. Please attend the meeting tomorrow.

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Attend The Niles Trustees Meeting

What: Final vote on new gun store and firing range 

Where: Niles Municipal Building (1000 Civic Center Drive, Niles, IL)

When: Tuesday, July 22nd at 7:00 pm (come early to get a seat)

Let us know you are coming by clicking here!


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