I Never Really Left Or Tzedek

November 2, 2016

By Sydney Bakal
2016 Or Tzedek Summer Participant

REGISTRATION FOR OR TZEDEK SUMMER 2017 IS OPEN!
Sign up before Jan. 15, 2017 to receive the Early Bird Discount.
Let Sydney, one of last year’s teens, tell you why you should.

This summer I participated in JCUA’s Or Tzedek summer institute, a program for teenagers in high school who want to explore Chicago and social justice work through a Jewish lens. In 12 days, Or Tzedek taught me so much, and encouraged me to keep learning and questioning. I want to paint a picture of just one of our evenings together this session, because it really reflects the intentional community Or Tzedek seeks to build…

One evening sitting down at the dinner table with our homemade stir-fry, we began discussing theatre. I’m not exactly sure how we ended up on the topic, but I shared that my school had done a production of The Wiz, and none of the lead characters were people of color. I was uncomfortable because the show is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, reclaiming the American dream for people of color. Others shared that they too were uncomfortable; however, one individual said it would only be inappropriate if people of color were turned down for roles because the show was intended to create more lead characters who were people of color. Another individual said it would be a waste for such an amazing show to not be put on more often and that the music is for everyone. We debated and threw out many arguments, even talking about Fiddler on the Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank performed by non-Jews. We discussed the nuances, complexities, similarities, and differences. Even after dinner, our conversations followed us to the car and to bed.
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Experiences like this one were so interesting because we got to speak our minds and hear others’ opinions judgement-free. I now have more tools and a better understanding of issues that I had never really gotten to talk about in the past.

I loved all of the different workshops we did throughout program. We expanded our understandings of privilege, oppression, police accountability, restorative justice, gun-violence prevention, community organizing and more. Most of all, I learned how to listen and how to have conversations about complex issues. Coming home I wanted to continue these conversations. I am currently planning a legislative activism program for my youth group, events to explore and learn about Englewood, and a workshop using theatre games to teach about power and community.

I feel that difficult issues are often put on the back-burner to maintain the comfort of the privileged. However, those who are oppressed must live the difficulties every day. We can only break down systems of oppression if we recognize that they exist. I never really left Or Tzedek; I try to question normative values and existing systems. I’m still having awkward and disquieting conversations, and I hope I can improve the systems of which I’m a part.


We Must Stand Together

March 29, 2016

headshotBy Michael Goldberg
JCUA Member

A few weeks ago, I joined members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and the Downtown Islamic Center in a joint community service event at the DIC.

When I arrived I met a group of lively volunteers. Together we worked in an assembly line to prepare peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches. We packed them into lunch bags with salads and oranges before setting out across downtown Chicago to offer the lunches to people experiencing homelessness.

I was glad to be working alongside people from different backgrounds on a pic 2common goal of service to our sisters and brothers facing hunger and homelessness.

Both Judaism and Islam stress the importance and the necessity of feeding the hungry and helping the homeless. Both traditions emphasize social justice for the suffering, the downtrodden and the powerless. In the Jewish tradition, to perform acts of social justice is to do God’s will, and we are all called on to act on behalf of God in this world.

Service to our fellow human beings can be a vehicle for bringing us together. When we do service together we grow in understanding with one another, deepen our sense of fellowship, and inspire hope in ourselves and others.

As two new friends and I were walking down the street and offering lunches to those in need, an onlooker thanked us for what we were doing. I could tell that we had inspired some hope in him.

pic 1Now more than ever it is crucial for Jews and Muslims to come together in the name of love, unity, and understanding. We must stand together against all forms of hatred, bigotry, and division.

Amid divisive rhetoric we have an opportunity to show our strength in unity.

We are commanded: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). As Jews we know what it feels like to be ostracized and scapegoated, and we must do everything within our power to foster unity and to not allow the heinous crimes of history that we will never forget be repeated on our neighbors.

We are children of Abraham. We can and we must come together in the spirit of love, understanding, peace and justice.

Please join JCUA for their annual social justice Seder: “The 11th Plague – Standing Against Islamophobia” on Monday, April 11 at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston. This is a great opportunity for people to come together and learn about ways we can work together to stand against hate. Click here to register: www.jcua.org/seder2016

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The Civil Rights Movement, JCUA and the Light of the Menorah

December 22, 2014

Note: This presentation was made at the JCUA Member Hanukkah party last week.

Stacey Flint and her daughter, Lauren, at the JCUA member Hanukkah party.

Stacey Flint and her daughter, Lauren, at the JCUA member Hanukkah party.

By Stacey Aviva Flint
JCUA Member/Guest Blogger

More than 15 years ago, I was a JCUA staff person. Today, I am member of JCUA. I’d like to share my journey with JCUA and explain why you should join with me as a member of JCUA.

JCUA introduced me to the city of Chicago and helped me to understand justice in America. My knowledge of justice was the Civil Rights movement, and I was as a spectator of a historic past. JCUA opened my understanding of the heart of the movement and allowed me to go from spectator to an actor for change.

Jews and social justice issues are linked most often with the Civil Rights movement in partnership with Black Americans. Injustices in the political and social justice sphere culminated in Jewish and Black collaborations. Both communities were victims of a long history of institutionalized discrimination and social shunning by mostly white, Christian populations.

Jim Crow signage often proclaimed, “No Jews, no Dogs, no Negroes.” At the height of the Civil Rights era, Jews and Blacks marched together in Selma (Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rabbi Robert J. Marx), and challenged housing discrimination in Chicago. This past August (2014) marked the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Chaney (African American), Goodman and Schwerner (both Jewish) were lynched for daring to register Black voters in Mississippi in 1964.

JCUA member Tina Escobar kindles the lights of Hanukkah at the JCUA member party.

JCUA member Tina Escobar kindles the lights of Hanukkah at the JCUA member party.

Born from a shared history

It is out of this history JCUA was born. For over 50 years JCUA has partnered with diverse communities to carry out the prophetic vision of tzedek, tzedek, tirdof–Justice, Justice, shall you pursue.

As my first employer after graduate school, JCUA holds a special place in my heart and professional career. I was and still am drawn to JCUA because of its core values–Justice and Tikkun Olam. JCUA recognizes that Jews are neither powerful nor powerless, but they can be bridge builders and relate to both the powerful and the powerless.

Today, as a member of JCUA, I can be my whole, authentic self: A Jew, Black, multicultural, a woman and a citizen concerned for my fellow man, without being asked to choose only one. As a Jew of color, I realize that I have a dual consciousness and I can be a living bridge between my communities as well as many others.

As leaders, we must come together once again and harness the common ground of humanity to shed light on the plagues of darkness that foster racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of oppression. New prophets may never arise such as Moses, Dr. King, or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, but Judaism calls on us to be prophetic voices, lights among darkness.

Lights in the darkness

Rabbi Schneuer Zalman of Liadi once said, “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” The Talmud teaches, “We don’t depend on miracles,” we have the opportunities to be lights in the darkness.

JCUA is a treasure trove in both Chicago and social justice history that is rare to find. Sometimes I know I can feel paralyzed by what I hear on the news. But as a member of JCUA, I have the opportunity to be a part of solutions. JCUA acts as the shamash (servant candle on our Hanukkiah that lights the other candles). As a JCUA member, I get information about issues and how to process them according to Jewish values. And I also get to lend my voice and experiences.

What am I saying? JCUA is looking for a few good members to be lights in this generation. As I look out I see many lights shining tonight. Let’s keep the flames of Justice burning bright long after Hanukkah. Join with me as a member of JCUA; there is room at the table.

Let JCUA keep your flame shining brightly.

I will see you at our next member meeting.


Stacey presented these remarks at the JCUA member Hanukkah party. Our next member meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, location TBD. 

» Become a member of JCUA — get meeting notifications and action alerts


Gun Lobby Appropriating Holocaust Imagery

July 21, 2014

There are debates over policy that are civil and there are debates that are fueled by disrespect, racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism. The new gun store and firing range being proposed in the Chicago suburb of Niles has generated conversation on both sides of the issue. People can have differences of opinion but it is never acceptable to utilize images of Nazis and the Holocaust to make one’s point. One of the largest online gun lobby media outlets, AmmoLand, published a call to action for their supporters that included explicit and offensive Nazi images along with misogynist anti-women language. AmmoLand, along with the Illinois State Rifle Association, are urging their supporters to attend the upcoming Niles Trustees Meeting (Tuesday, July 22nd, 7:00 PM at 1000 Civic Center Drive, Niles, IL) to voice their support for this store and firing range at the final vote on the matter by explicitly attacking women and labeling those who support sensible gun policies as Nazis.

Example of gun lobby Holocaust imagery

The establishment, if opened, will be next door to several schools, including Niles West High School. Business owners have gone on record stating that it will negatively impact their livelihoods and community members testified to the emotional and psychological toll it would take on them hearing bullets being fired all day during business hours. JCUA was present for the second hearing for the special use permit at the Niles Plan Commission Meeting and testified against opening the store in the proposed location. Nonetheless, the Plan Commission voted 5-2 to send the proposal up to the Niles Trustees for a final vote. It is imperative that those who support our kids having a safe neighborhood to go to school in and those who support stopping the flow of guns into the City of Chicago from neighboring suburban gun stores come to this meeting tomorrow and voice their opposition to this gun store. The gun lobby is using fear mongering, hateful and anti-Semitic rhetoric to rouse their supporters to the meeting. We must be present with common sense, clarity and civility. Please attend the meeting tomorrow.

jcua-action-alert-banner

Attend The Niles Trustees Meeting

What: Final vote on new gun store and firing range 

Where: Niles Municipal Building (1000 Civic Center Drive, Niles, IL)

When: Tuesday, July 22nd at 7:00 pm (come early to get a seat)

Let us know you are coming by clicking here!


JCUA Responds to This Past Weekend’s Violence

April 14, 2014

As Jews across the country prepare for Passover, I am with my extended family in Los Angeles. Though the metropolitan area here is more than triple the size of Chicago, it is the Chicago weekend violence statistics that I am following, along with the shootings at two Jewish Community facilities in metropolitan Kansas City . It is a bloody, violent weekend.

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We all feel the reverberations of gunfire. We mourn the victims who we don’t know and will never meet. We mourn with the parents, children, and grandchildren left behind, bereft and shell-shocked. 

JCUA’s Justice Seder earlier this month was entitled “From Handguns to Hope”. Those who attended were moved and inspired, and left feeling a little more powerful and a little less helpless. We must strengthen our resolve to come together in solidarity with those who are suffering to address this scourge, the modern-day plague of rampant gun violence.

On the eve of Passover, as we recall and retell the story of our peoples’ oppression, let us remember the communities who suffered great loss this weekend, and all due to gun violence. It has to stop.

Please join us. We need to pull together now more than ever.

Judy Levey, Exec. Dir.

P.S. In the wake of these shootings, we are more committed than ever to the work of our partners responding to gun violence.  Fierce Women Of Faith are sponsoring a Mother/Son Dialogue on May 1st at the DuSable Museum.  Click here for more information.


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