By Judy Levey
JCUA Executive Director
This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating in the Chicago Theological Seminary’s (CTS) conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Selma, Selma at 50: Still Marching. Sitting on a panel between Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia and Reverend Otis Moss III of Trinity Baptist, and downt the row from longtime JCUA friend and IMAN Executive Director Rami Nashashibi, I was amazed at the extraordinary leadership that exists in Chicago… leaders who work across all sectors and throughout the city on inequality and racism.
The questions posed by Dr. Lee Butler of CTS made for an interesting dialogue among the panelists, whose comments touched on income inequality, strengthening communities, immigration reform, and racism. Listening to community leaders talk about the urgent need for social investment was riveting, and their passionate pleas to invest in families, health, community stability, young people, and immigrants were so compelling that I wished there would have been thousands in the audience rather than about 200.
When I started talking about JCUA and our 50+ years of bridge building and the ongoing work to combat poverty and racism in Chicago, I was struck by how often we harken back to the civil rights era, and how I yearn for there to be so many more contemporary examples of righteousness and moral integrity winning over those on the “wrong” side of history. To be sure, there are many terrific fresh young leaders working to mobilize people for just causes in Chicago and nationally; however, I often wonder how it’s possible that our enthusiasm for social justice in the Jewish community seems to have become so distant from our willingness to take action.
JCUA is working to translate social justice initiatives that address the root causes of racism and discrimination into a language that makes people want to get involved. We are working to engage the Jewish community – to “meet people where they are” – to right the wrongs that prevent our fellow residents of Chicago, our neighbors, from realizing lives filled with opportunity and hope. I know there are many Jewish Chicagoans who care deeply about fairness and systems change. We need their help and yours.
My hope is that someday soon we will be widely quoting not only Dr. King’s famous and moving calls to action, but the calls to action of the leaders in Chicago today, who will be known far and wide for their ability to motivate meaningful and longlasting changes to inequality and racism in our own communities. With some spirit and perseverance, I pray that JCUA’s voice will be in that mix.