By Miriam Grossman
Education Coordinator, JCUA
It’s a story we know well enough. It rains for 40 days and nights while our heroes, Noah, and his family, float above the waters unharmed…. until voila! We are blessed with rainbows, promises and hints of new shrubbery.
All in all it reads like child’s play, but this year, after joining the JCUA staff, I’m looking on at the Lake Michigan and reading Parshat Noah very differently.
After the rain descends for 40 days the Torah tell us the waters churn for 150 more. It takes a full year for the earth to dry and for God to give the command to rebuild. Imagine it: a lone ship in a violent sea, each passenger holding visions of greenery and renewal, surrounded instead by valleys and peaks of turbulent dark water and unmarked seasons.
There are times in my life when the work of social justice, the work of understanding and somehow combating complex systems of power and oppression feels insurmountable. I am continually awed by the labor of my JCUA colleges, the organizers and community outreach staff, who comprehend the immensity of the injustices in our city and our world and keep going. It begs the question: how do you knowingly enter the water and find your way to the land?
People talk about the 40 days of rain. We talk about crash of thunder, the protests, the demonstrations and rallies. And indeed we should. However, Parshat Noah challenges us to acknowledge the necessity of churning in the water; it teaches us the patient work of seeking solid ground over the course of many months. For JCUA this means our Community Initiatives and Development work. Through these programs we partner with grassroots community organizations directly impacted by issues of affordable housing, worker’s rights, immigration reform, and the criminal justice system. This work involves years of weekly meetings, leadership trainings, strategic planning, and organizing — the behind-the-scenes intricacies of any powerful social movement once the rain has stopped and the protest is over.
At JCUA, we work only with those grassroots organizations that request our assistance. We never presume to tell a community organization what they need. Rather we build relationships over time, we share our expertise, and we trust that only our partners know what is best for their own communities. This process of building relationships and sharing skills is of course slower than a top down approach. It involves more churning, more months in the water, but the result is community organizations that are self reliant and empowered to seek out new growth on their own.