Make the Vision Possible, Says JCUA’s CEO

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.

Tonight we’re taking some time to celebrate our accomplishments, but our work continues.

New Attention to the Dream Act

For several years, JCUA has been working on immigrant justice, bringing information to synagogues, to the broader Jewish community, and to legislators. As active members of ICIRR, we worked on the successful passage of the Illinois DREAM Act last year.

President Obama recently (June 15) took a historic step in the right direction by authorizing employment for about one million undocumented young people who can now stay in the U.S. for extended periods.

It has been an inspiring couple of weeks for immigrant justice. Events like these remind us of our collective power to change systems when they are inherently discriminatory and unjust.

JCUA’s Four Initiatives

The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has been a pioneer in pursuing social justice, working to combat poverty, discrimination, and anti-Semitism, for nearly 50 years.

We are narrowing the scope of our work in order to be sure that we are achieving impact. We have initiatives in four main areas:

  • immigration
  • housing
  • Jewish-Muslim community building
  • empowerment of Jewish teens

As the foreclosure crisis deepened, JCUA’s Community Ventures provided a zero interest loan to redevelop 75 foreclosed homes in North Lawndale. We are about to make a loan to the Rosenwald Building on 47th and Michigan, a historic building that many of you are familiar with in Bronzeville. If you know it, you know what an eyesore it is. After 10 years of empty neglect, it is now poised to revitalize an entire neighborhood with 330 new affordable units.

We are working directly with the residents of Lathrop, one of the last remaining public housing developments in Chicago, to empower resident voices in the discussions and plans that affect their homes.

Working directly with partners — That’s how JCUA operates, and it’s the quality that has made our Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative – JMCBI – a model outreach program.

Jewish-Muslim Relations

JMCBI was created in response to the rising tide of religious discrimination after 9/11. Last fall, we hosted a huge Iftar in the Synagogue, with hundreds of Chicago’s Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths, coming together at Temple Sholom in Lakeview.

We talked, ate, and prayed together. The impact of these partnerships continues to grow. This year, we’re holding Iftar in the Synagogue simultaneously at THREE synagogues and we are expecting nearly 1,000 people. So mark your calendars for Aug. 2 – you won’t want to miss it.

We also started the groundbreaking Rabbi Imam dialogues to foster real, meaningful communication between Rabbis and Imams. This program is an original JCUA creation promoting genuine understanding. It is exactly the kind of program, launched with partners, that counters discrimination by building sustained relationships.

Empowering Teens for Social Justice

Many of you are already familiar with our Teen Social Justice Institute, Or Tzedek, where high school students study principles of social justice, learning about Chicago’s communities and putting community organizing into practice.

For those of you whose kids have participated in that program (and I am an Or Tzedek parent myself) you know it’s life-changing. Parents tell us they are deeply moved by the impact of this experience on their kids’ lives. Teenagers come away from it with a whole new view of their own abilities to transform the world around them.

JCUA’s Work Today is Urgent – More Urgent Than Ever

We have exceptional, dedicated staff and a committed board of directors working to promote tikun olam, our moral imperative as Jews to participate in the healing of the world. This is the foundation of our work and the profound expression of our obligations to others.

You can’t just give lip service to diversity. You’ve got to be working directly with other people, actually be doing things in which you have a personal attachment, in order to experience what it means to relate to others. Diversity is hard, not easy.

The work of JCUA is similarly hard, not easy. JCUA is engaged, not for a couple of months, but year after year – building bridges and ongoing relationships. That is the essence of our work. And that is the Jewish thing to do.

People Who Share Our Vision

My vision for JCUA’s future is that we are the organization that people who share our values flock to. Those who want to join us in raising up the voices of people who ought to be heard – and putting heart and sweat into making the world a little bit less imperfect. We need your help.

We will flourish now and in the years ahead with your input, and with your support. We’re at the beginning of an exciting new chapter for JCUA. I am looking forward to working with you as we pursue our mission proactively, with renewed focus and sharp clarity.

YOUR acts of change will make this vision possible.

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