Jewish History is a Part of My Black History

 

Verna Jaunes, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Working at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs for 12 years, Verna Jaunes is a seasoned JCUA veteran. As office administrator she plays a key role at JCUA providing support to staff and ensuring that all office equipment is functioning.


In March 1998 I was working for the OfficeTeam Agency as a temp when I received a call for a new assignment at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

At the time I had no idea what JCUA did or what I would be doing there. It was a temporary assignment to help with data entry and other administrative duties. The office administrator gave me a key and said the staff worked on flex time, so I would have to let myself in each morning.

“Okay, how long am I going to be here?” I wondered.

I spent my time in the office dealing with donors and events.  In the beginning I didn’t think much about the fact that JCUA is a Jewish organization.  They were always discussing public housing, CHA transformation plans, policy issues or plans of the community partners at the staff meetings.

The Associate Division and its quarterly gathering, plans for the Annual Meeting and the summer concert at Ravinia, and the Annual Dinner were also discussed.

Getting days off the first year was great! Everyone kept asking me where I worked.  “A Jewish social justice organization,” I’d reply.

“Why are you off so much?”

“It’s a Jewish holiday!”

After a year of that I decided it would be best if I at least learned the names of the holidays and what they represented.

Meeting Rabbi Marx was a great experience. He’d come to the office for meetings with the program staff and speak about why he felt the need to start this organization. The fact that he was willing to go against the majority view and stand for the rights of black individuals to have better homes at fair prices was inspiring.

His decision to march with Dr. King in Marquette Park–knowing that he could be physically hurt and his career goals possibly hindered– gave me a clearer idea of his character. In spite of personal repercussions, Rabbi Marx was willing to speak out for social change in Chicago. I also understood how he could motivate Jane Ramsey to continue the fight against injustice.

Soon I found myself opened to diverse beliefs, which increased my belief in what the organization stood for.

I also had the opportunity to have great interactions with Lew Kreinberg, JCUA’s first staff member. He was the type of outspoken person that always got to the heart of the matter with me. He loved the West Side and was constantly saying the West Side was the best side. He always thought I should get out of the office and work in the community, as he was always working in the community with groups like the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and the Westside Federation.

The office atmosphere encouraged my interest in learning about the people I worked with– their values, their ideas.

I always thought Jewish meant religious. I found out that it was a way of life with a specific set of values and prophetic requirements and that all Jews are not the same–that there are a variety of beliefs.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet young men and women from all around the country who shared a common driving interest in social justice. I’ve listened to their goals and plans for the future. I’ve also spent time with great German interns, who were dedicated, focused and contributed something lasting to the organization.

The passion of Kat Haines for the Ida B. Wells housing residents and Imagine Englewood If…; Stacey Flint keeping us informed on legal changes; Java (Ilanit) Goldberg, and Jessica Aranda for their work with the Latino Union. The time they willingly dedicated to their cause renewed my love for people.

The need to learn and respect others was enforced through interactions with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Guy Austrian, Annie Grossman, Maria Cruz, Raj Nayak and Patricia Smith. They inspired me to express and explore information for personal reflection.

I learned about team building and working with others from Gretchen Solomon, Brian Gladstein, Josh Prudowsky, Gabriel Machanbanski and Sari Rubin, who wanted cross-training for everyone in order to foster understanding of the different roles each held in making sure JCUA’s mission was met.

The peace and spiritual lifts came from Ari Hart and Asaf Bar-Tura. They made me explore myself and opened my heart to the religious beliefs of others as a way to clarify my contact and willingness to be open-minded and seek the opinions of others. This is good because it helps eliminate the myths and misinformation received through a third party.

The history of Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement assisted in my understanding of the reasons the organization I worked for was constantly speaking out against injustice.

The oppression, segregation, hatred that African-American and Jewish people have suffered through the centuries helps to retain the focus of a coalitional relationship of communities on social justice and other issues.

Working at JCUA has confirmed my belief that the future of the African-American and Jewish community is with the children and the values they hold.

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