City Council Committee Advances Emanuel’s Anti Gun Trafficking Measure

June 18, 2014

The Chicago City Council Public Safety Committee today (June 18) unanimously adopted an Emanuel administration proposal that would tighten restrictions on gun retailers while still allowing gun sales in the city.

The committee vote followed a hearing at which the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and several organizations spoke in support of the measure.

JCUA's Judy Levey (center, at mic) testifies in support of an ordinance that would impose restrictions on gun sales in Chicago.

JCUA’s Judy Levey (center, at mic) testifies in support of an ordinance that would impose restrictions on gun sales in Chicago.

“We urge the City Council of Chicago to be bold enough to enact this common sense ordinance to reduce the supply of and access to illegal guns in this city, in an effort to reduce easy access to guns and resulting fatalities,” said JCUA executive director Judy Levey in her testimony to the committee.

“It is far too easy for gun traffickers and violent offenders to get their hands on guns that were stolen or purchased illegally, destroying lives, families, and far too much human potential.  JCUA worked on gun titling legislation in Springfield last year, which did not pass. We endorse the ordinance and urge our City legislators to respond urgently and responsibly in order to protect Chicago’s families from the devastation of gun violence,” Levey testified.

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Green ReEntry Project is Completed on the Southwest Side

May 13, 2014
Green ReEntry House ribbon cutting

The marching band from Fairfield Elementary, across the street from the house on Fairfield, enhances the celebration (more photos).

City housing advocates are celebrating the completion of an unusual housing project on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

On April 28, JCUA joined city and foundation officials and others to celebrate the Inner City-Muslim Action Network’s ribbon cutting on 6210 S. Fairfield. The house, which was the second project completed by the Green ReEntry crew, was the culmination of tremendous efforts of an unconventional idea that went far beyond the confines of a typical bricks and mortar project.

The Green ReEntry crew is made up of formerly incarcerated individuals who are reclaiming their lives through leadership training, community engagement, and learning construction skills (learn more about Green ReEntry).

“We would never have been able to acquire this home if community partners and organizers from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Southwest Organizing Project and others across the city didn’t come together three years ago through the Multifaith Housing Reclamation Campaign to help us mobilize with our local leaders around this home,” said IMAN’s Alia Bilal who served as emcee that morning.

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Violence in Chicago Compared to the Liberian Civil War

December 23, 2013

by Jonathan Lehrer
JCUA Communications Consultant

Screenshot from "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." See the complete documentary on the PBS website.

Screenshot from “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” See the complete documentary on the PBS website.

What does a civil war more than 5,000 miles away that ended 10 years ago have to do with gun violence in our backyard today?

Plenty, says Dr. Marcenia Richards, founder of Fierce Women of Faith, one of JCUA’s community partners.

Introducing the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Richards said the struggle and ultimate triumph of the women of Liberia inspired her to rally Chicago women against violence. Richards’ passion is reflected in the very name of her organization. (Learn more about Fierce Women of Faith.)

The 2008 film tells the story of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a group organized by Leymah Gbowee, a social worker who eventually received the Nobel Peace Prize. By convincing the Christian and Muslim women of Monrovia, Liberia to work in partnership, the group’s efforts led to peace after years of civil war.

I saw the film recently at Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette, the synagogue community where I served as president a few years ago (and where I also started the annual film festival during which this documentary was screened). Judy Levey, JCUA’s executive director, spoke about JCUA’s recent work with Fierce Women of Faith (learn more). Judy is also a member of BHCBE, where the Social Action Committee has placed urban violence on its agenda.

After the movie, and via email, I chatted with Dr. Richards.

What aspects of the film inspired you to create FWF?

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[Video] JCUA Members Stand for Immigrant Rights with Interfaith Partners at Detention Center

April 8, 2013

by Lauren Goldstein
Organizing and Advocacy Intern, JCUA

Early in the morning of April 5 2013, members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs stood alongside the Sisters of Mercy and other interfaith partners in prayer and in strength to support those being deported from the Broadview Detention Center.

JUDY at BroadviewIn the shadow of the barbed wire fencing and the county jail buses, amidst police vehicles and officers, and beneath a waving American flag, words of prayer and songs were shared to illustrate our solidarity with our brothers and sisters currently being detained in this country. Standing with us were a few families waiting to say goodbye to their family members. Vigil participants told the families that we were all there to pray with them, and that they are not, and never will be, alone.

Judy Levey – executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs – offered an opening prayer for the vigil as we all joined together to sing “The World is Narrow Bridge” (see video below). Prayers were offered, proclaiming we will keep in our hearts those being deported, the families been torn apart, those living in fear and uncertainty, and the leaders of our nation who have the power to make a change. Above all, prayers expressed hope that the spirit of love be more powerful than the spirit of hatred and discrimination.

Participants learned the names of a number of individuals being deported that day to countries around the world, from Albania to Guatemala, for no reason other than administrative paperwork error. Those present were called to contact our elected officials and plead for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. We were moved to act now – to create and affect change now – to fight for justice now.

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Remembering Bobbie Johnson: A Fearless Community Advocate and Partner

November 5, 2012

by Judy Levey
Executive Director, JCUA

Judy Levey reflects upon her encounters with Bobbie Johnson, a fearless community advocate on Chicago’s south side, who recently passed away.


Bobbie Johnson z”l

On Saturday, 11/3/12, I attended the memorial service of Bobbie Johnson, a woman I was honored to be able to call my friend.

Bobbie reached out to me in 2009 in my former role as the Director of Community Development at JCUA. Bobbie re-introduced me to the Rosenwald, a historic building in Bronzville on Chicago’s south side, which I was familiar with through my previous work on affordable housing preservation. She taught me about the history of the building, what it was like to live there, why it was so hard to redevelop it, and how she had been devoting more than 20 years of her life to preventing its demolition. Bobbie was not your average activist – although in my experience, “average activist” is an oxymoron. She was truly extraordinary. She was relentless, pushy, funny, determined, and knew how to celebrate life. She was a mother and grandmother, nurse, historian, organizer, program director, social worker, grant writer, teen mentor, and a bible scholar. She was larger than life.

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Our Jewish Response to Chicago’s Soaring Foreclosure Crisis

October 26, 2012

Judy Levey

by Judy Levey
Executive Director, JCUA

An article this week in the Washington Post called attention to the economic suffering of many communities four years after the housing bust. Near the top of the list for the most suffering is our own Cook County. The article states:

The list of worse-off communities includes places such as Cook County in Illinois, where home prices have fallen nearly 20 percent, unemployment has risen and the inventory of foreclosures has soared.

Responsive to poverty and community needs, JCUA’s work addresses this devastation through our housing advocacy work and our Community Ventures Program. Community Ventures provides zero-interest loans for the redevelopment and preservation of affordable housing. The program currently funds the rehabilitation of foreclosed homes in North Lawndale and neighboring communities through a loan to Breaking Ground, Inc., in addition to predevelopment costs associated with the rehabilitation of the Rosenwald Building to create more than 230 affordable units in Bronzeville (see more Community Ventures projects here).

My rabbi, Rabbi Kensky of Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah, spoke about the need for a Jewish voice in working to combat injustice in his Dvar Torah last Shabbat on the story of Noah. He generously shared his Dvar Torah with me and gave me permission to share it here. In it, Rabbi Kensky explained:

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JCUA advocates for affordable housing protection in Cook County human rights ordinance

September 21, 2012

JCUA amplifies a Jewish voice in a campaign to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to make discrimination based on Section-8 housing vouchers illegal (read JCUA’s letter to Cook County’s Board President here).


JCUA members and allies at a housing rally


One important focus of JCUA’s work is to prmote access to affordable housing for low-income people in the Chicagoland Area. One such affordable housing option is through “Section-8″ vouchers. Section-8 housing vouchers allow low income families to live in privately owned buildings. Section-8 residents pay 30% of their income in rent (similar to public housing residents). In the voucher program, the program pays landlords the difference between that 30% and the ‘fair market rate’ for the housing unit (up to a limit).

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ACTION ALERT: On Friday 8/17, Vigil Against Islamophobia

August 16, 2012

[UPDATE: Due to weather, the vigil was rescheduled for FRIDAY, 8/17, 5pm. These changes are reflected below]

In response to the recent violence against the Chicagoland Muslim community (shooting at mosque in Morton Grove and home-made bomb thrown at an Islamic day school in Lombard), JCUA, the Muslim community and our interfaith allies will be holding a vigil to express our concern.

When: Friday,  8/17, 5:00PM
Where: Downtown Chicago, corner of Congress and Michigan.

Judy Levey, JCUA’s CEO, will be speaking at the vigil . Earlier this week Levey was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying: “”Our own Jewish historical experience of being a minority has taught us of the dangers of stereotyping and demonization a vulnerable community. The Jewish community must not, and will not, stay silent.”
Please join us as we take this important stand against hate and bigotry.
“How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person; whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt. What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

JCUA to Invest in The Rosenwald; Will Help Revitalize Bronzeville

July 5, 2012

By Jonathan Lehrer
Communications Consultant to JCUA 

With the aim of helping to revitalize the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs is investing in a housing development that has Jewish roots.

Through its Community Ventures Program, JCUA is making a$100,000 zero-interest loan to Rosenwald Courts, a $110 million renovation project that will create 331 new units of housing, with 323 affordable units and 18 market rate units. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the Chicago Community Development Commission is expected to consider earmarking up to $25 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) to back the project at a July 10 meeting.

The Community Development Commission voted July 10 to allow redevelopment to go forward. The plan still needs city council approval. See WBEZ’s coverage here.

See the Tribune’s original story here. Registration on the Tribune site may be required to read the article.

The name of the building is familiar to South Side residents, as well as members of the Jewish community and Chicago history buffs. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), was president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, at one point investing $21 million to bail out the company in the post-World War I recession.

The Rosenwald as it looks today.

Architectural rendering of Rosenwald Courts.

Rendering of interior courtyard at the proposed Rosenwald Courts. The courtyard was one of the features of Michigan Boulevard Apartments as originally constructed in 1929.

Rosenwald devoted much of his life and more than $70 million of his personal wealth to philanthropy. Influenced by Jewish leaders, social activists and Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald became dedicated to improving the plight of African-Americans. He said this in 1911:

“The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer.”

Rosenwald invested $2.7 million in what was to become the Michigan Boulevard Apartments, a landmark 421-unit development that was built in 1921.(Rosenwald also was the major force behind creation of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.)

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Make the Vision Possible, Says JCUA’s CEO

June 27, 2012

Judy Levey, JCUA’s chief executive officer, was a featured speaker at our recent “Acts of Change” event (June 20, 2012). She identifies JCUA’s main issue areas as immigration, housing, Jewish-Muslim community building and empowerment of Jewish teens. The event honored immigration attorney Kalman Resnick and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia with the Rabbi Robert J. Marx Social Justice Award.

Judy Levey, JCUA CEO

It is an honor to be here, following the great tradition of Rabbi Marx, Jane Ramsey, and others have led this organization. Our honorees, Kalman and Chuy are role models for social justice. They, together with our community partners, and all of you – are Actors of Change.

I would like to illustrate several of the ways JCUA, with your help, makes our world more just. These examples make clear what a group of committed and focused people can accomplish when we work together.

Proposed Crete Detention Center

Let’s begin with the dramatic recent events taking place in the Village of Crete. The Corrections Corporation of America was hoping to construct a private immigration detention center there. But the CCA has a bad track record, and their profit incentives lead them to skimp on food and health care. Private detention centers in general are notorious for violations of basic human rights.

JCUA has been working in Crete since late last year, joining forces with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, of which we are a founding member. With our help, the residents of Crete got organized and fought to make their voices heard.

There were some setbacks, but a couple of weeks ago the Village Board of Crete voted to kill the project.

Did it happen overnight? No, it was the result of the sustained efforts of the residents of Crete, JCUA, and allies, working together, building relationships, and persevering even in the face of what looked like defeat.

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