Praying With Your Feet: Rosh Hashanah and Healthcare Justice

By Leah Greenblum
JCUA Member and Guest Blogger


Thursday, Sept. 18, 4:00 pm
Outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine
Corner of Maryland Ave. and E. 58th St. [MAP IT]
RSVP here

Leah Greenblum

Leah Greenblum

Most of us who live in Chicago are vastly aware of the city’s segregation. For me and many of my white friends, our interactions with the city’s south side are limited to visiting a select few locations. It may be eating the best pasties with a good friend, people-watching the students at University of Chicago, or checking out a mural or 20 in Pilsen. But while we’re enjoying what this area of the city has to offer, sometimes we forget that many of the residents of the South Side are still very much victims of structural discrimination that deeply affects their lives.

What does structural discrimination look like in Chicago? One manifestation is the  lack of trauma center on the south side. While eight trauma centers are distributed throughout the Chicago area, none are located in south side neighborhoods. There are countless stories of women and men dying from treatable gunshots in inordinately long ambulance rides to distant trauma centers.

This maldistribution of resources is an an amalgamation of many inequalities at once. We all know that Chicago has some high violent crime. In particular we know that this crime is often concentrated in pockets of neighborhoods blighted by high levels of poverty, such as Englewood, Chatham, Washington Park, and Fuller Park. We also know that gunshot victims (many of whom are not associated with gangs, but are innocent bystanders) and others who incur events causing trauma (Who hasn’t had a bicycle accident?) are often in unstable physical condition so much so that time—we’re talking minutes and seconds—can be the difference in life and death.

Click on the map to see a larger version.

Click on the map to see a larger version.

So it makes sense that, considering Chicago’s crime rates—specifically the number of gunshot wounds—on the South Side, there would be at least one trauma center that would be equipped to handle patients efficiently and decrease gunshot victim deaths. Sadly, this is not currently the case.

It’s clear that the University of Chicago Medical Center—which in 2012 made $156 million in profit—could choose to build one in Hyde Park.

Community groups have identified a trauma center at the University as a potential solution to what researchers call the “trauma desert.” Instead of working with the community to solve this issue, the university has chosen to ignore research, proposals, and attempts for engagement by residents and their allies. The University of Chicago’s resistance to being a part of a solution contributes to a systemic pattern of discrimination against people on the South Side.

The university chooses not to prioritize trauma care for the surrounding community based on low levels of health insurance coverage and high levels of poverty. This, in turn, leads to deaths, which continue to perpetuate weakened communities and poverty. To be clear: A trauma center is not the only answer, but it is definitely a piece of a solution.

This Thursday, Eight cantors and rabbis will join an interfaith coalition to sing for a trauma center.

This Thursday, Eight cantors and rabbis will join an interfaith coalition to sing for a trauma center.

This Thursday at 4pm, JCUA will join community and faith groups on the South Side to “Sing for a Trauma Center.”

As people of different faiths come together a new trauma center, Jewish clergy from across Chicago will sing prayers and blow the shofar. Sign up to attend this action, and pray with us for an end to structural discrimination so all people can be healed.

During Rosh Hashanah Jews pray for life, health, and prosperity, and of course eat apples and honey. As a self-identified secular Jew, I will not be attending synagogue this year during the high holidays– or probably at all. (I may, in fact, celebrate by making kugel potstickers, but that’s another story.)

Although I’ll be working instead of praying or atoning in public, I will still be reflecting on the question of “how to be inscribed in the Book of Life.” For me, attending this event and partaking in an action that draws attention to structural inequalities that take place in the city I call home, is the kind of self-reflection that resonates most with me. I hope you all can join me as well (because I’ll really need some help in drowning out my tunes).

We mustn’t stop at the New Year. Indeed, everyone deserves to live years of full, sweet life.

Leah Greenblum is a JCUA Member. To get involved with JCUA’s organizing work, sign up to be a member. The program is free, and connects people to organize as a Jewish voice for social justice.

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