Support Or Tzedek on #GivingTuesday

November 5, 2014


By Pamela Klier-Weidner
Director of Development and Organizational Advancement

I’ll never forget the first moment I realized the impact of JCUA’s Or Tzedek summer program on our Jewish teens. I was in front of my computer in a spreadsheet nightmare when a flurry of teens marched through the JCUA office.  Their energy upstaged whatever it was I was doing.

Pamela Klier-Weidner

For each of my six summers at JCUA, I’ve waited with excitement for these teens to trump whatever work I’m ensconced in.

It’s not just the usual fun energy of teens that many of us “elders” enjoy being around.  It goes way deeper than that. Each year, I’ve witnessed these kids walk into Or Tzedek as just a teen, and finish the program as “just” teens. The positive impact of Or Tzedek will last a lifetime.

For the teens who didn’t already know it, they learn that they are already leaders and are capable of making positive change. They also learn that they have a Jewish responsibility to care about and address root causes of oppression.

Or Tzedek is a game-changer, a life-changer.

Joel Spiegel is only one of many Or Tzedek alums who prove the point. At 18 years old, Joel got elected as a precinct committeeman in Buffalo Grove and just got named one of 10 Jewish Chicagoans of the Year by the Chicago Jewish News. He credits it all to his Or Tzedek experience.

Don’t even get me started on Rachel Patterson, who emceed our 50th Anniversary celebration this year. Or Sam Hamer, who organized his entire high school to move their prom to a venue where workers were treated fairly. So many of these teens–and now, some young adults–give me more hope for our future.

So, this year, when we decided to hop on the #GivingTuesday wagon, Or Tzedek came to my mind immediately.

#GivingTuesday, Dec. 2nd,  is a global movement dedicated to giving back. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday.

While Or Tzedek has been a beloved and popular program since its 2007 inception, scholarship dollars will help JCUA make the program accessible to all teens.

Our #GivingTuesday fundraising goal is $5,000 and we’re delighted that a generous donor has agreed to match all scholarship donations dollar for dollar until we reach our $5,000 goal. 

Every amount makes double the difference. If you shop on Black Friday, and you’ve saved a coupla bucks, those prospective Or Tzedek teens could sure use that matched scholarship money.  There really isn’t any amount too small. If you’ve got change, make change for these teens.

You don’t have to wait until “Giving Tuesday” to support Or Tzedek.

Good News for Beatriz Santiago Ramirez

November 5, 2014

beatriz-santiago-ramirezAfter three months of living in fear of deportation while in sanctuary at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church, we are thrilled that some good news has come to Beatriz Santiago Ramirez.

Beatriz, an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. more than 10 years ago, has been pursued by authorities recently. This occurred even though she is eligible for a U-visa after undergoing a sexual assault and fully cooperating with the resulting investigation. If deported, she would have been separated from her two American-born children.

Last week an immigration judge in Chicago re-opened her case, meaning her application for legal status can be considered. She is no longer in immediate danger of deportation and if her application is approved, she will be authorized to work in the U.S. and may ultimately receive citizenship.

On Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, JCUA Executive Director Judy Levey, along with other religious leaders, spoke in support of Beatriz and the recent good news at a press conference at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission. The press conference was organized by Fr. José Landaverde, who leads the church housing Beatriz and her children; along with Pastor Sara Wohlleb, the Congregational Coordinator at the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America. CRLN oversees the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition (CNSC), a group of religious congregations that house undocumented immigrants in danger of deportation.

This press conference was follow-up to a previous one held at the same location on Sept. 29.

Media coverage:

» FoxChicago

» Vivelohoy

Or Tzedek Teen Honored as a Jewish Chicagoan of the Year

November 4, 2014

Joel Spiegel listed in the Guide to Jewish Chicago

joel-spiegel-chicago-jewish-newsHe’s attended courtroom deportation hearings, participated in vigils for immigrant rights, been named Youth of the Year at his synagogue, successfully run for precinct committeeman in his town, worked to help Democrats win congressional seats.

And he’s only 18 years old.

Joel Spiegel, a recent graduate of Stevenson High School in Buffalo Grove, says he has been interested in social justice advocacy for as long as he can remember but never had an outlet for his passion.

That changed in 2012 when Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs came to speak at Spiegel’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, about Or Tzedek, JCUA’s summer teen activism program.

“With everything she was saying, I was nodding my head,” the well-spoken and enthusiastic Spiegel says.

Joel was listed as one of 10 Jewish Chicagoans of the Year in the Guide to Jewish Chicago, published recently by Chicago Jewish News.

» Read the complete profile of Joel, written by Pauline Yearwood

In Support of Beatriz Santiago-Ramirez

October 8, 2014

By Nate Seeskin
AVODAH Organizing Fellow, JCUA

“Do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Judy Levey, at mic, joins other faith leaders in support of Beatrice.

Judy Levey, at mic, joins other faith leaders in support of Beatriz Santiago-Ramirez.

JCUA Executive Director Judy Levey echoed these powerful words recently (Sept. 20) as she stood alongside other religious leaders in a press conference outside the door of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church in Little Village.

Emceed by Fr. José Landaverde, clergy and leaders from different religious organizations expressed their support for an undocumented immigrant and her two U.S.-born children who are all receiving sanctuary at the church while under threat of deportation. Beatriz Santiago-Ramirez, an immigrant from Mexico, is a victim of violence and is eligible for a U Visa, but failure to be certified by public officials has instead left her subject to deportation and separation from her children.

Concluding the event, Rev. John Thomas from the Chicago Theological Seminary led a prayer and then the clergy removed their shoes as a symbol of holiness as they proceeded to walk into the church where they recited additional prayers.

JCUA participated in this event to call attention to the need for humane treatment of immigrants and welcoming the stranger. Numerous lines within Jewish texts voice this sentiment, especially in highlighting the experiences of the Jewish people as slaves in Egypt: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

Many of the congregations represented at this event are part of the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition (CNSC), a group of immigrant-welcoming religious organizations. CNSC is under the umbrella of the Sanctuary Movement, which is currently growing and operates in 12 American cities.

» Read coverage of the press conference in the Chicago Sun-Times

JCUA October Newsletter

October 8, 2014

In the October issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • Bring social justice into your sukkah.
  • Upcoming JCUA membership meeting to review two important campaigns for justice.
  • Immigration Reform workshops at JRC in Evanston.
  • Or Tzedek teens: The Hot Chocolate’s On Us!
  • Supporting a Mexican immigrant in her quest for a special visa
  • Cantors to sing for expanded trauma care.

Read it now!

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Thank You for Making Mayfair Commons a Priority for JCUA’

September 18, 2014
Mayfair Commons

A pre-development loan of $100,000 from JCUA’s Community Ventures Program will help support the redevelopment of Mayfair Commons in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.

By Judy Levey
JCUA Executive Director

“Preserving housing stock.” It’s a phrase that sounds official and impersonal. Occasionally, though, we are reminded that there are human stories behind the bureaucratic language.

After reading our recent update on JCUA’s financial involvement in a redevelopment project, Rev. C. J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, sent me this note:


I am writing to thank JCUA for your support of the Mayfair Commons [a 97-unit senior citizen residence at 4444 W. Lawrence in Chicago].

Back in 1997, I was the pastor of Mayfair United Methodist Church and our church leader, Jean Chapman, who had worked hard all of her life, did not have a decent home to which she could retire. Jean was an amazing, dynamic leader and I admired her very much.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, Arise Chicago

Rev. C.J. Hawking, Arise Chicago

When the Mayfair Commons opened, we were all so excited. I wrote a letter of recommendation for Jean and met with the managers. She was the perfect candidate for them and they soon discovered that to be the case.

Jean moved in and a large number of us went there to celebrate with her! It was a perfect place for her and she so deserved to live in such a nice place. I visited her there many more times and I just loved the place! We need 300 more like them in the city.

A few years later Jean died of a sudden heart attack. I think about her a lot and what a special woman she was to me and so many others.

I am so grateful that she had Mayfair Commons as her home base.

So, thank you for stepping up and making Mayfair Commons a priority for JCUA. I am so very moved that you would help folks there feeling cared for and safe.

Be well, CJ


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