By Brian Gladstein
Program Director, JCUA
(NEW ORLEANS, LA. — Nov. 8, 2010) –This week JCUA Executive Director Jane Ramsey and I are networking with more than 3,000 Jews in New Orleans as part of the Jewish Federations of North America 79th Annual General Assembly.
According to the federations “we are here to celebrate the power of the Jewish community—local, continental and global.”
It is this statement that strikes me as the role JCUA and our partner Jewish social justice organizations must play in working with all sectors of the Jewish community: To embrace issues of poverty, race and oppression.
That is our charge for this conference and for all the work we do as JCUA in relationship to the Jewish federations and the broader Jewish community. And it seems the federations are listening. They moved the annual General Assembly from Orlando to New Orleans and they are highlighting the crucial role that the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJR) — of which JCUA is a member — is playing in this year’s conference.
New Orleans: Fighting for Basic Social Justice
The fact that we are meeting in New Orleans shows an understanding by the federations to incorporate issues of social justice and human rights violations. New Orleans residents have been fighting for the basic issues of social justice from the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, to racial conflicts in the 9th Ward, to the demolition of thousands of units of public housing. Today, JSJR led hundreds of bus tours throughout New Orleans to places of hope and strife throughout the city.
But there is more evidence of the broader Jewish community’s openness to social justice and human rights than just the fact that the conference is being held in New Orleans.
For the past two years, JCUA has been working with our allied organizations across the country as part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. In fact, JCUA has just concluded serving as chair of “Define America 2010” — a campaign that activated more than 1,000 volunteers nationally and more than 100 in the Chicago area on civic engagement activities for last week’s election.
I am proud to be part of a contingent of more than 50 Jewish social justice activists who have come to New Orleans with a simple but powerful message: “Pray with Our Legs.”
This is the famous statement made by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel when he marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. With this message in mind, we are engaging the broad and diverse American Jewish community to understand, value and implement social justice activism throughout the country.
Praying with Our Legs
I am wearing a sticker that says, “Pray with Our Legs” to engage participants. This afternoon we had two panels led by funders and activists to discuss social justice. Tonight we are hosting a reception for the official launch of “Praying with Our Legs,” a publication that tells the remarkable stories of 19 highly accomplished young people, aged 15 to 33, and demonstrates the diverse ways in which Jews express their faith by engaging in service and advocating for social justice — including teens that have participated in JCUA’s Or Tzedek program.
So what does all this really mean? It means that we are seeing a bubbling up of social justice within the Jewish community. For more than 46 years, JCUA has been working with low income communities of color fighting for justice. And that work continues to be the core of what we do locally.
Now the opportunities are growing to bring Jewish power on a larger scale to make real social change from the Chicago communities of Roseland to Austin to Little Village to Rogers Park to the North Shore across the country and across the world.
I am inspired. I am humbled. I am eager to work with the greater Chicago Jewish community to fight for a world we can all imagine. Join me. Join us. Join JCUA to “repair the world.”