Daniel Kaplan, Community Organizer, Joins JCUA Staff

March 4, 2014

Daniel Kaplan, community organizer for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Daniel Kaplan grew up in Chicago with a passion for tzedek and social justice.

That would be just about the perfect combination for a position at JCUA. He began his new career with us this week as a community organizer.

“I’m thrilled to be working with an organization as venerable as JCUA. It’s an honor to join the staff at JCUA’s 50th anniversary,” says Daniel. “I’m looking forward to this exciting opportunity as we recommit to advancing a just vision for the city of Chicago.”

Daniel graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. with a BA in Race and Ethnic Studies, concentrating on Postcolonial Studies and the Middle East. He returned to Chicago to live in a Moishe House and help build a young Jewish community rooted in social justice. Since then, he has become an active member of Mishkan Chicago, and organizes with Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools.

“During my time in Chicago I’ve seen JCUA organize strategically, build valuable relationships, and take risks in the name of social justice,” Daniel says. “From civil disobedience in the name of immigration reform to mobilizing the Jewish community around A Better Illinois to standing with Muslim community organizations against Islamophobia, JCUA is advancing a pluralistic and universal definition of tzedek that shapes my values and approach to organizing.”

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On Torah and Privilege: Parahsat Vayishlach

November 14, 2013
Asaf Bar-Tura

Asaf Bar-Tura

by Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Operations, JCUA

This week’s Torah portion is parashat “Vayishlach.” In this portion Jacob’s daughter – Dinah – is raped by the son of a king (Shechem).

Two of Jacob’s sons – Shimon and Levi – avenge this horrific act by killing ALL the male residents of the city. Jacob is furious at his sons for what they did, and even says on his death bed (in a later parasha): “Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel.”

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, this raises the question of collective responsibility. Should all the people of the town be held responsible for the deed of the prince? Maimonides and Nachmanides disagree on this point (the former sides with the sons and the latter with Jacob).

privilegeMy take: It is important to distinguish between guilt and responsibility. A great example is white (and male) privilege. I am not guilty of having white male privilege. But the fact that I have this privilege places a responsibility on me to take an active role in pursuit of social justice and equity. If by having this privilege I am in an advantageous social position, I must use this unfair social advantage to combat oppression and collaborate with those who are oppressed.

So, Shimon and Levi had the right instinct that the citizens of the town are not uninvolved. They bear responsibility for what happens in their midst, especially to those who are socially vulnerable. But Jacob was also right that responsibility should not be confused with guilt.

When not evident, responsibility must be explained. It is often a hard topic. Rather than killing the town’s people, Shimon and Levi would have done better had they opened a space of dialogue, and then perhaps made room for advocacy and organizing to hold the town’s leadership accountable.

(Guest Post) Are There “Boy Holidays” and “Girl Holidays”? A Reflection on Diversity.

October 24, 2013

by Rachel Patterson

Rachel is a student at Loyola University Chicago, and alumna of JCUA’s Or Tzedek program and serves as a counselor in Or Tzedek’s summer and year-round programs. This article originally appeared in Loyola’s Broad Magazine.

Rachel Patterson

Rachel Patterson

When I was five years old, I shared with my friend the concept of girl holidays and boy holidays. It was strange to me that she was unaware on this concept. Hanukah and Passover were girl holidays, while Christmas and Easter were obviously boy holidays. It was simple – My mom and I celebrated Hanukah and Passover while my dad and my brother celebrated Christmas and Easter.

Once my parents stopped laughing at my generalization, they wondered how to correct my assumptions.

In reality, my mom and I are both Jewish and my dad and my brother are Baptist, which explains the difference in celebration rituals. That hadn’t occurred to me at five. I just knew there were traditions my dad and my brother had, while there are others that my mom and I shared. I was as excited to see a tree in our house without presents under it for me, as I was to light the menorah with my mom for eight nights. There was no “dual dilemma” as interfaith households are often described to have.

Children have the unique ability to process information as they come across it, whether they are taught the information or not. I was not adhering to gender norms, nor was I concerned with stereotypes that are too often used to describe followers of the Jewish and Christian faiths. I was never taught those things. I was simply describing something I was witnessing without malice and without indifference.

QUOTE 1Boy holidays. Girl holidays. There is beauty in that description. It is not always beautiful to see differences as black and white or night and day. There are in fact nuances that I was not aware of as a five year old. However, it is beautiful to accept people for who they are. Innocence is not always ignorance.

My mom and dad decided to raise me Jewish. My mom always knew she would have a little girl named Rachel. In the Jewish faith, children take the religion of the mother so I would be born Jewish but every family has to make the decision to raise or not to raise their child with religion in his or her life.

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[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

Youth Story Slam Calls Young Activists to Share Their Stories

June 14, 2013

by Jessica Kim Cohen
JCUA Intern, Communications

On June 25, join young leaders, organizers and activists for the Youth Power Story Slam. Share and listen to people’s stories  about what it means to make a difference as a youth in Chicago. RVSP on Facebook. 

story slam 2013Originally conceived by Rebecca Katz and Miriam Grossman, who will both be staffing Or Tzedek’s summer 2013 sessions, the event is co-sponsored by AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Chicago Repair House, Moishe House Chicago, Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Imagine Englewood If… and Response.

“Working to help promote youth power through stories and media is a passion of mine,” Elie Zwiebel, of AVODAH, said. “As an educator and youth advocate, I think youth are often marginalized in our society and not given the opportunity or trust deserved and earned to play a part in shaping our societal conversations.”

The slam is an opportunity for teens and young people to share empowering and disempowering experiences in the form of stories, spoken word or poetry, creating a safe space for young Chicagoans to explore both their similarities and differences, The theme of the night is stereotypes and their consequences, filled with  as participants will speak about their experiences  as agents and targets of stereotypes based on race, gender, sexuality, religion and socioeconomic status, among other labels.

“I think a great way to fight ignorance is through storytelling,” Joel Spiegel, an Or Tzedek Advanced Activism 2013 participant, explained. “It is always a powerful experience hearing my Latino or Muslim counterparts tell me about their social justice work. It is so inspiring to hear stories, and so empowering.”

The slam’s mission centers on youth empowerment and all Chicagoans of all ages are encouraged to attend. Filled with stories that are inspiring, sad, funny and everything in-between, this will be a thought-provoking experience for all.

Having attended all three previous slams, Gita Karasov is excited to bring the event to the Chicago Repair House. “Our community is mostly in their 20s, so I thought it was especially important and meaningful for these young professionals to see how powerful youth is and to see their energy and passion. It’s nice to have an event that isn’t focused on one specific age group, but rather on working with youth, together,” Gita said.

This free and open event will take place from 7-9 pm at Chicago Repair House, 1615 W. Byron St. Apt. 2F, in Chicago’s Roscoe Village.


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