By Iszy Licht
I first connected with JCUA two years ago through my work as a student activist at Northwestern University. I was the President of a new student group on campus committed to working against gun violence, Northwestern Students for Gun Violence Prevention. We volunteered at the JCUA’s 2014 Freedom and Justice Seder. This event was both meaningful and inspiring, providing me with an opportunity to learn more about the devastating impact of gun violence on Chicago’s communities, while also celebrating and putting into action my Jewish practices and values. I have been an enthusiastic member of JCUA ever since.
I believe in a Judaism rooted in action and social justice. Tikkun Olam, the traditional Jewish concept urging individuals to engage in social action, has always been a major component of my Jewish identity. Through my parents’ values, volunteering experiences, Jewish education at Solomon Schechter and Chicagoland Jewish High School (now called Rochelle Zell Jewish High School), and college courses on racial and socio-economic inequalities, my Jewish identity has become inextricably linked to my beliefs in progressive values and equality.
Earlier this month I attended the JCUA Shabbaton commemorating the Chicago Freedom Movement and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s march through Marquette Park. At this Shabbaton, I marched, reflected, learned, and got to know a diverse and enthusiastic Jewish community, including Northwestern students from Zooz and my two brothers – Aitan and Yadid.
While I often talk about my commitment to racial justice and both attend and organize events to learn about inequality, this event may truly have been my first experience showing up to address these issues with direct action. Unlike the marchers in 1966, I did not face angry spectators and dangerous conditions as I marched through Marquette Park. Rather, under a beautiful morning sky, the march peacefully and swiftly passed through the neighborhood. But similar to the Chicago Freedom Movement, we delivered a powerful message – that our city remains separate and unequal and that we must fight for fair housing, investment in marginalized communities, and safety from police misconduct and brutality. The march culminated in a rally at the corner of the park featuring a variety of faith leaders, community organizers, and local politicians. The assemblage hearkened to Dr. King’s historic march and called on all attendees to continue the fight for equality. Likewise, the “Takin’ it to the Streets” music festival that followed declared a similar message – that in the face of adversity, the Marquette Park community thrives with a beat – from both hearts and MCs.
The inspiring conversations, joyous beats, and hopeful action made this an unforgettable weekend. As I marched alongside members of Chicago’s diverse communities, I honored the living legacy of Martin Luther King in the most fitting way possible: by continuing the fight for equality and change.