By Nate Seeskin
AVODAH Organizing Fellow, JCUA
September marks two new beginnings for me with the coming of the Jewish New Year and my starting as an Organizing Fellow at JCUA. This is not just another year where I look to improve myself, but one where I look to engage with my new community.
Many people look to the High Holidays as an opportunity to reflect on how they can improve themselves. As an organizing fellow I understand that in order to effectively attend to outside factors in our lives, such as family and work, self-care and reflection are essential.
Along with the emphasis on self-improvement, there should be equal weight placed on the betterment of community (Tikkun Olam) and social justice (Tzedek). I moved to Chicago last month largely because I considered it like a second home throughout my life with the personal connections I have here. Yet I can also relate to this city because of its many similarities to my home city, St. Louis. Both are steeped in rich traditions (especially baseball and food) and have a special type of folksy flavor that you cannot find on either coast.
At the same time, both cities are plagued with problems like gun violence and police brutality. Disparities in access to resources are rampant, whether it be the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri or the shortage of emergency health care on the South Side of Chicago. These problems are only symptomatic of a broader problem: segregation. Last year, St. Louis and Chicago were respectively ranked as the sixth and seventh most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. Within this ranking, 12 of the 25 most racially segregated American cities are in the Midwest. As the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is prime battleground for our fight for social justice.
Social justice plays a foundational role of Jewish faith and communal expression. Our history is one of both persecution and perseverance and in our annual period of reflection, we must not take for granted the world around us.
We have a stake in the fight for social justice, especially with how large, vibrant and diverse the Chicagoland Jewish community is. This year, there are many battles that lie ahead for our city and state:
- Golan’s Moving & Storage, a Jewish-owned local business, is accused of committing wage theft and their employees have been on strike for nearly two months;
- On the South Side of Chicago, there is not a single adult level one trauma center, making gun violence victims 23 percent more likely to die than if they were shot on the North Side;
- The low minimum wage in Illinois continues to perpetuate poverty as it falls farther behind the rate of inflation;
- Immigrants, documented and not, continue to be marginalized; and
- The spending pattern for our public education system is the second most regressive in the country.
The list can go on and on.
This year, I am challenging myself, as a Jew and a new Chicagoan, to learn more about and act on the problems that impact our community while also fostering new relationships. I urge you to do the same. Becoming a member of JCUA is one way in which you can help to achieve social justice. As a member of JCUA, you will have input on our organizations’ strategic plan as we look to combat issues pertaining to economic justice, gun violence prevention, and immigration justice. We have monthly member meetings where we discuss what campaigns we like to engage in. On top of that, we also have numerous actions, like “Sing for a Trauma Center” that occurred last Thursday. Not only will you help the people around you, but you will help yourself to become more knowledgeable of yourself.