By Anna Rubin
JCUA’s AVODAH Organizing Fellow Emeritus
As part of closing out my year as a community organizer at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Marla Bramble, the Director of Organizing at JCUA and my supervisor, asked me to reflect on what I expected this year to be like beforehand, and what it has been in reality. This piece of reflection has been challenging for me because I really had no idea what to expect coming into this year. For any of it. What would my housemates be like, what would my job be like, what would Chicago be like? What even is community organizing?
After 11 months of work, programming, and bayit reflection sessions, I can’t say I’ve totally figured out community organizing. But I definitely have a better sense of what it is and what its place is in the Jewish community in Chicago and in my own life.
Organizing this year has looked like many different things for me: I marched for a just budget during Moral Mondays downtown, I occupied the capitol in Springfield while singing “We Shall Overcome,” I shouted “Si se puede” alongside domestic workers after a long day of lobbying. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many individuals and organizations who are working to combat our city’s problems and challenges through intentional, grassroots, systems-based organizing and action.
But at the beginning of the year there was often this lingering doubt in the back of my mind. I heard speeches and stories from young, black, queer organizers from Chicago who are leading the charge for comprehensive trauma care, police accountability, and an end to the ever-rising death toll in our city. I saw the news stories about the fierce parents of the Dyett hunger strike, who were my first real exposure to people putting their bodies on the line fighting for justice. And at times I felt like organizing Chicago’s Jewish community was a cop out. As we know, a majority, though certainly not all, of Chicago’s Jewish community lives life with a certain amount of comfort and relative socioeconomic ease. On the most surface level, these battles and others don’t appear to be many of our battles. Why organize the Jewish community at all? Or to put it in Community Organizing terms, what is my self-interest in focusing my work on galvanizing my fellow Jews?
But after a bit more time, what many of my coworkers and members had been saying to me all year finally sank in: These are my people I’m organizing! There is no race, region, activity, hobby, political affiliation, etc. that I identify with more strongly than I identify with the Jewish community/Judaism. And 1:1 after 1:1 this year (side note: 1:1s are intentional conversations, they are an organizer’s bread and butter, and they are probably the most defining component of my year), I spoke with members of the Chicago Jewish community who told me that their Judaism is also inextricably linked with a personal pursuit of justice in some meaningful way. I’m sure many of you here tonight would say the same thing. I hear the Jewish call for justice being echoed in individual after individual in our city, and I want to help fan these flames. I want to be a part of a community that heeds the imperative for action that is now central to my Jewish identity.
This identity has been shaped enormously by these 1:1 conversations, as well as the countless conversations I had with my housemates this year. My roommate, Sarah, and I often stay up late talking about fears and hopes surrounding our new Jewish community and our personal Jewish identities. Some of my favorite AVODAH programs this year have pushed my housemates and me to think critically about what we want our Jewish community to look like and how we can, and should, be a part of making that change happen.
Through AVODAH and JCUA, I’ve realized that, if the Jewish community is going to continue to be my community, then I have a responsibility to hold us accountable to our values and to ensure that we act powerfully in the world in pursuit of justice. That’s my self-interest, and that’s why JCUA’s work is essential. I view it as a great privilege that I was able to organize my own community this year and to feel deeply connected to our victories and fears. I am excited to continue to be a JCUA member and to build my own power as well as the power of a Jewish community pushing for transformative social change in Chicago. And while I am sad indeed that my year in the bayit is coming to a close, I am bolstered by the knowledge that I now have a houseful of people who will not shy away from holding me accountable to my values – our shared values – and who will push me to always organize and show up with my Jewish pride at the forefront of my identity.