Justice Pursued – A Week of Victories

February 13, 2015

In January, JCUA members committed to two organizing campaigns. This week, we took action on both campaigns and celebrated watershed milestones for worker justice.


 
mazel tov golans
Golan’s Strikers Victorious

For six months, workers at Golan’s Moving and Storage have been on strike. The owners at Golan’s regularly committed wage theft by requiring employees to work unpaid hours and to  pay a ‘deposit’ when promoted. Unable to get the owners to renegotiate a fair contract, the workers went on strike. After six months, their persitance has paid off! The strike has ended, a new contract has been written, and people are back at work, as new members of Teamsters Local 705. Mazel tov to the Golan’s workers for the win and to our community partner Arise Chicago for their perseverance in this crucial fight for economic justice.

  •  Want to celebrate the win? Join Arise Chicago and the Golan’s workers for a victory party on Sunday, March 1.
  • For party details and more info about the Golan’s strike, check out Arise Chicago’s February e-Newsletter.

Read the rest of this entry »


JCUA Newsletter – February 2015

February 11, 2015

In the February 2015 issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • JCUA congratulates Arise Chicago and Golan’s workers for winning their strike and first union contract.
  • RSVP to join JCUA and other members of the Trauma Center Coalition for an Interfaith Vigil.
  • Register now for JCUA’s 2015 Passover Seder – Getting to the Promised Land.
  • JCore Member Meeting – Wednesday, February 18.
  • Sign up for Or Tzedek 2015 summer sessions.
  • Save the Date for JCUA’s first progressive dinner – ‘Just Eat’ – on June 15.
  • Rabbi Ari Hart reflects on his work with JCUA.

Read it now


Rabbi Ari Hart: Planting the Seeds

February 3, 2015

On a Just Path Logo

Editor’s Note: “On a Just Path” is a series of stories about former JCUA employees, where they are now and the impact JCUA had on them. Interviews were conducted and edited by Nathaniel Seeskin, AVODAH Organizing Fellow at JCUA.

Rabbi Ari Hart

Rabbi Ari Hart

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. I was the Founding Director of Or Tzedek, JCUA’s teen social justice program, in 2006​.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. I loved working at JCUA. JCUA is not afraid to ask the tough questions about what goes on in Chicago, not afraid to take action. It was one of the most meaningful opportunities for me to pursue real social justice work in a Jewish context.

Q. What impact did your work at JCUA have on the community?

A. My work planted the seeds of social justice in teens, exposed them to dimensions of their city that they had never seen before, and connected very diverse groups (teens in Englewood and Highland Park) over justice work. One of the most rewarding things is seeing Or Tzedek participants who were 14, 15 years old now launching careers as justice activists, doing amazing work in the world.​

Q. How did your experience at JCUA impact what you do now? 

A. My experience at JCUA taught me about the power of deep relationships, long term activism, how to truly stand in solidarity with communities. The concept of interstitiality has always stayed with me. I think about our role as both an oppressed and empowered community all the time, and what that means for today and for our future.


Rabbi Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization dedicated to combating suffering and oppression. Ari currently serves as Associate Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and as Director of Admissions for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Ari learned at Yeshivat HaKotel, Machon Pardes, and graduated from Grinnell College in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition.


Amanda Klonsky: Tapping into Our Own Stories

January 21, 2015

On a Just Path Logo

Editor’s Note: “On a Just Path” is a series of stories about former JCUA employees, where they are now and the impact JCUA had on them. Interviews were conducted and edited by Nathaniel Seeskin, AVODAH Organizing Fellow at JCUA.

Asaf Bar-Tura

Amanda Klonsky

Q. When did you work here and what was your position title?

A. I was at JCUA during the early 2000s and was the Coordinator of the Jewish and Muslim Community Building Initiative as the program launched.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. I made several of my closest friends while working at JCUA and entered into a large network of progressive Jewish activists whom I stay in touch with to this day. It was the first time I felt my Jewish identity and my activist identity were in sync and visible in my adult life.

Q. What impact did your work at JCUA have on the community?

A. We began organizing in response to hate crimes and attacks against Muslim community centers and mosques in Chicago. Ultimately, we organized a campaign in response to the PATRIOT Act. We collaborated with CAIR Chicago and several other Arab and Muslim community organizations to pass city council resolutions against the PATRIOT Act. It wasn’t always easy to convince Jewish community leaders that we should organize against the attacks on Arab and Muslim people– but we were able to tap into our own stories and experiences of persecution as immigrants– and built a powerful community across lines of difference.

Q. How did your experience at JCUA impact what you do now? 

A. I spent the last decade working in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, where I co-led Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program– which provides arts and literacy education to youth who are detained there. I then went on to work at Chicago Public Schools, leading an effort to support formerly detained and incarcerated youth in returning to school in Chicago.

I am now at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I am earning my doctorate. I am interested in expanding access to education for people in prison. My interest in these issues was catalyzed at least in part by the important work that was happening at JCUA when I was there, in response to the John Burge torture cases. I was introduced to a whole world of activists who were organizing in defense of those people who had been wrongfully convicted as a result of torture at the hands of John Burge. It changed my life to meet those brave people who stood up and challenged power, after having experienced such trauma.


Amanda Klonsky is currently studying for her Doctorate in Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work is focused on expanding access to education for youth returning from juvenile detention and prison. 


JCUA January 2015 Newsletter

January 14, 2015

In the January 2015 issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • Join JCUA in 2015 to learn more about our two new organizing campaigns.
  • RSVP for JCUA’s first member meeting of 2015 on Jan. 21.
  • Or Tzedek Summer 2015 registration is open.
  • What are you doing on MLK day weekend?
  • Guest blog post on immigration reform.
  • Save the date for JCUA’s 2015 Passover Seder on March 19.

Read it now


Asaf Bar-Tura: ‘We Must Challenge Our Own Community’

January 6, 2015

On a Just Path Logo

Editor’s Note: “On a Just Path” is a series of stories about former JCUA employees, where they are now and the impact JCUA had on them. Interviews were conducted and edited by Nathaniel Seeskin, AVODAH Organizing Fellow at JCUA.

Asaf Bar-Tura

Asaf Bar-Tura

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. I started working at JCUA in the summer of 2007, as the Director of Teen Programs. After a couple of years I transitioned to leading JCUA’s Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative. After two additional years served as Director of Programs and finally Director of Operations. I transitioned out of JCUA after more than six years, in December 2013.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. There are a lot of special aspects to working at JCUA. First, through the work at JCUA, I met incredible people across the City of Chicago; people leading the struggle to bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be – the world we and our children deserve. I loved spending time in Chicago’s neighborhoods, building partnerships and learning from people’s experiences.

It was also a privilege to work with the many smart, talented and passionate colleagues I had at JCUA. I found JCUA to be a space that encouraged creativity, bold thinking and action, collaboration and sincerity.

I always felt at JCUA an authenticity about the organization’s intentions and commitment to social and economic justice. As my mentor Jane Ramsey would always say – “We do what’s right; not what’s easy” – and I found that to be true and inspiring.

I remember one time during my first year at JCUA that Rabbi [Robert J.] Marx [JCUA’s founder] visited the office during our weekly all-staff meeting. One of the staff members asked him a question we often grappled with — how to choose what issues and causes to prioritize?

He sighed and paused for a long minute. Finally, his face rose up again with a smile, and he said he cannot answer that question for us. It is for us to grapple with. The only two pieces of advice he could offer were, first, be sure to be a good listener in the community; and second, ask yourself, where is the pain? Those two pieces of advice continued to echo in my head throughout my time at JCUA and beyond.

Q. What impact did your work at JCUA have in the community?

A. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote:

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This is something I greatly valued partaking in, namely, being part of a Jewish movement that works to strengthen the seams of Chicago’s garment of destiny. Whether through the teen programs, my work with the Muslim community, pastors across the city and countless others — together we worked to make real improvement in people’s lives, based on the recognition that we exist in a network on mutuality.

Q. How did your experience at JCUA impact what you do now? 

JCUA had a profound impact on how I view the city of Chicago, its priorities and policies. Through the work, the campaigns, the conversations, wins and failures, I learned much about the mechanics of social change. As I pursued both my work at JCUA and my Ph.D. in political theory, I debated which path to ultimately choose. The work at JCUA was an enormous inspiration when choosing to stay in the work directly tied to communities, and not pursue an academic appointment.

Q. Is there anything else would you like to mention?

A. What JCUA stands for:

  • The idea that a just society will come about through sincere partnerships across racial, ethnic, religious and class lines;
  • That Judaism will stand for justice only as long as Jewish people do so; and
  • That we must challenge our own community and must be willing to walk in the prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power, however uncomfortable.

These ideas put into action are a beacon of light for the Jewish community. A thriving JCUA is essential to the better world we envision.
And so, for me, JCUA will always be like Hotel California: I can get out, but I can never leave. I cannot imagine living in Chicago any other way.


Asaf Bar-Tura is Chicago Director at The Posse Foundation, where he works to develop young leaders from diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. He holds a Ph.D. in political theory from Loyola University Chicago. Asaf’s research focused on digital media and democratic participation. 


On December 2, You Can Help Or Tzedek Change Lives

December 2, 2014

Black Friday…Cyber Monday…

On #GivingTuesday (Dec. 2), JCUA is asking for your support of Or Tzedek, our teen social justice program. Today’s guest blogger shares his life-changing experiences with this unique program. Your donations will help fund scholarships for Or Tzedek. Gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000.

Sam Hamer today and in 2009 when he attended a rally with JCUA in support of hotel workers.

By Sam Hamer
Or Tzedek Alum

What does it mean to be a “stranger in a strange land”? It’s not a question that most Jewish teens ask themselves.

I certainly wasn’t any different. As someone who was raised in a household in which my parents sent me to Reform summer camp and preached liberal Jewish values, I thought I had tikkun olam all figured out. So going into Or Tzedek, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual—clean up a park, talk some Talmud, call it a day. But what transpired over those two weeks brought my Judaism and my activism together in a way that forced me to consider more deeply than ever before my values and beliefs.

How do you treat a “stranger in a strange land”? Demonstrating for the rights of immigrant workers in downtown Chicago—some my own Edgewater neighbors, it turns out—forced me to confront this biblical query in the most immediate of ways. On trips to Little Village and Austin and Englewood (would I ever have entered these neighborhoods otherwise?) I had the opportunity to engage with and dedicate myself to people for whom the triumph of justice over injustice is more than just an aspiration: it is the difference between sufficiency and hunger, or health and illness, or even between life and death.

» Help make it possible for a teenage to attend Or Tzedek. Make a #GivingTuesday
donation.
» Learn more about the 2015 Or Tzedek summer program.

I will for the rest of my life value my time as a part of Or Tzedek, not only because it opened my eyes to some of the greatest challenges of 21st-century urban America, but also because it prompted me to ask fundamental questions about what Judaism means. Sure, Judaism is prayer and tradition and good food. But after two weeks of Or Tzedek, I discovered that my Judaism had evolved into something more. My Judaism was no longer just an “is” but a “does”; a verb rooted in the pursuit of justice that we have an obligation to our community and our faith to realize. Tzedek tzedek tirdof [“Justice, justice shall you pursue”]—it turns out it’s in the same text as shema and kashrut and rugelach (sort of).

As a Jewish teen with an open mind, a heart for activism, and a curiosity to engage with deep questions of what Judaism is (and does) in the 21st century, I like to think that I became a little more of a mensch after my summer in Or Tzedek. But don’t take my word for it. Experience Or Tzedek for yourself. Just be forewarned: it may change your life.

Sam is a 2007 Or Tzedek alumnus and proud Jewish Chicagoan, having attended Chicago Public Schools for 13 years before studying at Yale University and graduating in 2014. He currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Studies with a focus in welfare policy.


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