JCUA: Making a Difference Through Jewish Identity

August 7, 2014

By Zoe Reinstein
JCUA Summer Intern

Zoe Reinstein, summer intern at JCUA

Zoe Reinstein, summer intern. Learn more about JCUA’s internship program here.

Let’s be clear. Waking up at 7 am during your summer vacation is annoying. That is, unless you’re interning for JCUA. The first day, I begrudgingly and half-asleep showed up for work at the office of this 50-year-old social justice organization. It took very little time at all to realize how incredible this experience was going to be when I picked up the phone, and it was the governor’s office calling JCUA.

During my time here, I had the pleasure of helping with logistics for the “Acts of Change” 50th anniversary gala and planning “Iftar in the Synagogue.” I helped to organize a JCUA delegation to an interfaith vigil hosted by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network vigil for the families of deportees at the Broadview Detention Center, followed by a meaningful interfaith discussion over coffee.

These experiences have taught me that there is nothing more exhilarating than feeling like you are actually making a difference because of your Jewish identity, which would have been impossible anywhere other than JCUA. I have seen how much effort goes in to making change, but that it is equally as worth it as it is difficult.

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Or Tzedek Announces Expanded Summer Sessions

January 26, 2014
Or Tzedek Summer 2014

Get the word from Rebecca

Two weeks discovering yourself and your city.

Two weeks of changing your world!

July 27 through Aug. 10, 2014

June 15 through June 29, 2014

Early Bird Registration Discount

Register before March 1 and get 10% off tuition. Join the movement of young, powerful people committed to justice.

 REGISTER

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Gracie’s Cafe: Building Community One Cup At A Time

December 3, 2013

Gracie’s Café is the latest project of JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, which provides zero-interest loan for community development projects.  A long time coming, St. Leonard’s Ministries was able to open the doors of Gracie’s Café in September 2013 with a final push from a CVP economic development loan of $50,000. 

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

Gracies Cafe MenuChicagoans can certainly have their choice among coffee shops and cafés, but a few months ago in the Near West Side, a new café opened that is worth much more than a passing glance before heading onto something more familiar.  You won’t regret it.

Gracie’s Café is the latest venture of St. Leonard’s Ministry (SLM), an organization with almost 60 years’ experience of providing comprehensive residential, case management and employment development services for formerly incarcerated men and women.

Gracies Cafe from Chicago Gazette article Robert Dougherty Mike Ellert LaTonya Carter and Walter Boyd

Left to right: Bob Dougherty (from SLM), Mike Ellert (cafe manager), LaTonya Carter (cafe staff) and Walter Boyd (SLM director).

Each year, approximately 250-275 formerly incarcerated individuals reside in SLM’s four housing programs:  St. Leonard’s House, Grace House, St. Andrew’s Court and the Harvest Commons Residence, which opened late this summer in partnership with Heartland Alliance and is located in what was formerly known as the Viceroy Hotel.

Gracie’s Café, brightly lit and eco-friendly, is located on the ground floor next to the Harvest Commons garden.  In the summer there is patio seating and in the winter, friends can gather together inside and enjoy delicious year round Intelligentsia coffee and other warm beverages, light freshly prepared breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as Bridgeport Bakery pastries like apple squares and their season pumpkin bars.

The cafe staff

The cafe staff

Along with the great food and drink, customers can enjoy the warm feeling of knowing that they are supporting a great training program.

Gracie’s Café is staffed with graduates of SLM’s Culinary Skills program, which is run by its Employment Center.  As graduates of the training program, Gracie’s Cafe staff now receives valuable work experience and has the opportunity to meet with a job counselor to help them further their careers.

After training and working at Gracie’s Cafe, SLM’s goal is to move employees to stable, permanent jobs in communities and bring on new graduates to help them do the same.

As much more than a café, Gracie’s is definitely worth stopping by. Grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or ask about their catering options.  They are also a great venue for smaller meetings, gatherings and just a great atmosphere.

Gracie’s Cafe in the Media:

Check out their recent feature in Gazette Chicago, and watch for more information on when they will be featured in Chicago’s own 30 Good Minutes, by the Sunday Evening Club on PBS.

Cafe Info:

  • 1519 W. Warren Blvd (plenty of street parking available!)
  • M-F: 7am – 2pm; S: 8am – 2pm
  • 312.492.8800
  • Visit and Like them on Facebook

Following the Legacy of Mayor Washington, 26 Years Later

December 2, 2013

Harold Washington served as Chicago’s first African-American Mayor from 1983 until his death in 1987. Christopher Huff, JCUA’s community organizing intern, attended the ceremony commemorating 26 years to Mayor Washington’s death, on November 25. In this post, Christopher reflects on the future of Washington’s legacy. 

by Christopher Huff
Community Organizing Intern, JCUA

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington's grave.

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington’s grave.

Fairness is much more than just a favored position. Fairness is a necessary condition for the existence of a civilized society. Fairness is a guard against injustice and a key component to any act derived from the intent to be free from bias or prejudice.

We must never forget this important role that fairness plays in the development of our society. Fairness is one of the most important tools we have to ensure not only the promotion of social justice, but the advancement of economic and political opportunities for those in need.

No leader could have understood these concepts more than former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. His belief in the advancement of fairness as a crucial value to promote during his campaign and tenure as mayor is arguably the most salient issue addressed during his inaugural speech in the fall of 1983. In this speech he said:

“I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair…

One of the ideas that held us all together said that neighborhood involvement has to take the place of the ancient, decrepit and creaking machine. City government for once in our lifetime must be made equitable and fair.”

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington's cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington’s cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Now, we fast forward 30 years following his inauguration and exactly 26 years past his shocking death and there I stood in front of his gravesite as a community organizer in training at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and student at the University of Chicago – School of Social Service Administration inspired by his words and dedicated to a call for a more fair Chicago for all the city’s residents.

Chicago has a come a long way since the passing of the Harold Washington. It has grown to become home to more than 2.7 million people and the second largest labor force in the United States. It remains the premier location for global conventions, tourists, and immigrants of all types of colors, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds.

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington's memorial ceremony. He said: "We will not let let the flame burn out... without Harold there is no Barack."

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington’s memorial ceremony. He said: “We will not let let the flame burn out… without Harold there is no Barack.”

However, if we are going to truly address the issues of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism that has plagued our city for generations once and for all, we must increase our willingness to work collaboratively across culture and religion – regardless of any fear or caution we might possess.

For nearly 50 years, JCUA has worked collaboratively across various cultures and religions to help address issues of race, class, and anti-Semitism.  Building on the prophetic Jewish values of “Tzedek” (justice) and “Tikkun Olam,” (repairing the world), JCUA inspires me to continue working toward the creation of a more fair and just Chicago.

And now, more than ever, I hope that you also stay committed to the principles of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam as you look to continue or renew your commitment to Jewish life.


Leaders Express Concern at Press Conference After Law Enforcement Raid in Immigrant Community

July 9, 2013

by Jessica Kim Cohen
Communications Intern, JCUA

photo 4

On Saturday, June 29, 2013, law enforcement agents raided Swap-O-Rama, a flea market located in Back of the Yards, a neighborhood in Chicago’s southwest side. Since the raid, accounts have come out depicting stories of undocumented citizens being arrested and detained, and, as such, often fearing deportation.

The following Wednesday, immigrant justice leaders and Illinois officials gathered at City Hall for a press conference to discuss this raid, where many immigrants live, work and shop.

Speakers at the press conference were especially concerned over the arrests apparent of immigrants, given the immigration reform bill currently under debate in Congress. As such, many stressed a need for the government to stop deportations.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia speaking at the press conference.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia speaking at the press conference.

Speakers encouraged both the Chicago Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to exhibit more prudence in the way they present themselves. According to Eric Rodriguez from the Latino Union of Chicago, having local police and ICE acting together confuses community members, leaving them afraid to confide in the police.

“It is a domino effect,” Rodriguez explained. “People will fear to ask for help.”

While officials claim that arrests took place due to bootleg CDs, many noted the discrepancy between the degree of force used during the raid and the small-scale nature of the crime.

“Overwhelming force was used,” Alderman George Cardenas, of the 12th Ward, said. “It was over copyright and CDs. I’m not saying it’s right, but it was over $5 CDs. The raid did not even target the producers or companies, but those just trying to make ends meet.”

“It is chilling that the police is targeting those selling $5 CDs, when there are many more violent crimes,” he continued.

When reporters asked what these participating offices and organizations plan to do next, speakers suggested educating people and other organizations about their rights. For example, about their right to remain silent and to see an attorney, regardless of their legal status.


[EVENT: July 24] Join JCUA for Lunch and Text Study on “Strangers and Obligations”

July 9, 2013

Leiah Moser, JCUA’s Rabbinical Student Fellow, will be leading a text study, asking how far does obligation to be concerned with the well being of the stranger extends.

WHEN: 12:00-1:00pm, Wednesday, July 24, 2013
WHERE: Spertus Building, 610 S. Michigan, Chicago – Room 314 (3rd floor)
WHO: The event is free and open to the public. All are invited.
*** Bring your own lunch

More About the Text Study:

Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas

A passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 78b-79a) discusses the execution of seven of the biblical king Saul’s sons in punishment for their father’s treatment of the Gibeonites, a group of non-Israelites who lived within Israel. This passage was later commented upon by Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th Century Jewish philosopher.

Given that the Torah ordinarily prohibits punishing children for their parents’ misdeeds, what is it about the treatment of strangers in particular that seems to override that principle in this case? What are the consequences of upholding the rights of the stranger so stringently? These are some of the questions we will discuss together.

More About the Facilitator – Leiah Moser:

Leiah Moser

Leiah Moser

Every summer JCUA hosts and trains a rabbinical student fellow in becoming a Jewish social justice leader. Leiah Moser is the 2013 fellow, focusing on JCUA’s teen social justice progeam.

Leiah just finished her second year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. As a rabbi in training, she has a deep interest in finding new ways to build spiritually engaged, inclusive communities of prayer. In addition to blogging about issues of identity and gender diversity within Judaism, she is active in service leading at a number of local congregations, particularly at Dorshei Derech, the Reconstructionist minyan at Germantown Jewish Centre, and has been involved this year in Mitzvah Mensches, a service program for adults with special needs at Mishkan Shalom.

For more information about this event, contact:
Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Programs
asaf@jcua.org


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