Rabbi Jill Jacobs: A Leap of Faith

March 27, 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 Jill Jacobs

Q. When were you at JCUA and what was your position?

A. I had the pleasure of working for JCUA from 2003 to the end of 2005 in the position of Director of Outreach and Education.

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. My role was to lead the Outreach and Education Department at a time when JCUA was exploring deliberate ways to reach out to the Jewish community. JCUA had a longstanding strength in working in low-income communities, but there was a renewed interest in organizing within the Jewish community. We had an incredible team of people who were and still are very dedicated to the Jewish community and social justice. Our work at JCUA at that time included:

  • Organizing the Jewish community to work with day laborers in Albany Park to create a day labor center, partnering with public housing tenants to stop the demolition of Cabrini-Green and raising concerns about the fates of tenants, and working to support hotel workers during the Congress Hotel strike. We built a strong social justice voice within the Jewish community in Chicago.
  • Running the Judaism and Urban Poverty (JUP) curriculum, one of JCUA’s hallmark programs at the time. We initiated the Nadiv Fellowship, through which dedicated young people in their twenties and early thirties studied Judaism and social justice and then taught the JUP curriculum to seventh graders in synagogues through Chicago and in the suburbs.
  • Creating the Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI) and partnering with the Chicago’s Muslim community on programs like ‘Iftar in the Sukkah’ and ‘Cafe Finjan’.
  • Running social justice trainings and public programming in synagogues and other venues. For instance, we held a full-day Jewish social justice learning event for over one hundred people at the Spertus Institute, and we developed a series of community organizing trainings for synagogue leaders.

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Emily Chaleff: Opening My Eyes

March 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.

Emily Chaleff

 

Q. Tell us about your time at JCUA.

A. I worked at JCUA from 1998-2000 and I was the Director of the Associate Division.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. There was so much that was so special – working at JCUA confirmed my commitment to working in the Jewish community, and it opened my eyes to the effects and complexities of poverty, bigotry and racism in Chicago and elsewhere.  I have so many memories – There are two that stand out the most:

I was planning a program with the leadership council at Cabrini-Green, I believe it was a financial education course.  We planned the course for a Sunday afternoon. I took a taxi from my apartment in Lakeview and the taxi driver didn’t want to take me to Cabrini.  He told me it wasn’t safe for me, and once I did convince him to drive me there, he wouldn’t leave until I found the individuals I was working with.  It raised so many questions for me – this was the home to so many Chicagoans, and yet the cab driver, however well-intentioned, did not believe it was okay for me to go there in the middle of the day on a Sunday – why is it okay for some people to live in certain conditions, and not others?  I learned so much about the meaning of community from the people we worked with and for in public housing.  Up until then, the buildings around Chicago were these foreboding, almost mythological edifices, but when you actually knew residents, worked with them, one quickly realized that the depths of the community bonds were intense, and that when those buildings came down, important communities were separated from each other.  It was so apparent, and heartbreaking, to learn in real time how some communities “matter”, and others are taken for granted, or not valued at all.  I was proud that a Jewish organization was working and advocating with this community to say “it matters”. Read the rest of this entry »




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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