Shout Loudly and Don’t Hold Back

October 26, 2016

By Ben Halbig
JCUA Board Member

JCUA Board Member Ben Halbig gave this drash at Mishkan’s Yom Kippur morning services for the Isaiah Haftarah . As we move into this new year, Ben asks how can we do more? How can we make this year reflect “the fast God really wants?”

halbig_benjamin_color“Good morning. I’m Ben. I grew up on the East Coast, but Chicago has been my adopted home for the better part of the past decade – first as an undergrad in Hyde Park, and now as a practicing lawyer living in the Gold Coast. Mishkan has been my spiritual home in Chicago since I moved back after law school. As a Chicagoan and a Mishkanite, I am honored to be sharing a few thoughts on what we are about to read together.

This has been a rough year for Chicago.

Almost a year ago – just before Thanksgiving– a judge ordered the city to release a video showing a CPD officer emptying his 9 millimeter semi-automatic rifle into an unarmed high school student. The video of Laquan McDonald’s murder tore at the heart of the city.

I remember live-streaming the protests on Black Friday 2015 in my parents’ house in Maryland. You know what has stuck with me all these months? Not the thousands of young activists pleading for justice on Michigan Avenue but Channel 5’s interviews with angry shoppers whose plans for holiday bargains had been ruined by the march. “Why today?” “Why here?” “Why can’t they just protest in their own neighborhood?”

I wish I could stand here and tell you how I am not them, how I would have been with the protesters. But the truth is – I know in my heart of hearts, I am a shopper. I am an employed white man living on the North Side of Chicago. When I think and talk about violence in in our city, it’s something that happens to other people. I don’t know anyone who has been shot this year. I don’t fear for my life when stopped by police.

Isaiah’s words in the passage we read today can be disheartening in the middle of the day on Yom Kippur. He’s essentially telling us that, after about 18 hours of fasting, praying, and asking to be inscribed in the Book of Life, we are doing it wrong. This is not the fast God wants.

You’d think after all these years of reading Isaiah’s words, we might get it right. But his message seems to be really hard for us to hear. What makes it so hard to hear? Read the rest of this entry »




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


JCUA October Newsletter

October 8, 2014

In the October issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • Bring social justice into your sukkah.
  • Upcoming JCUA membership meeting to review two important campaigns for justice.
  • Immigration Reform workshops at JRC in Evanston.
  • Or Tzedek teens: The Hot Chocolate’s On Us!
  • Supporting a Mexican immigrant in her quest for a special visa
  • Cantors to sing for expanded trauma care.

Read it now!


On Rosh Hashanah, New Beginnings Bring New Resolutions

September 24, 2014

By Nate Seeskin
AVODAH Organizing Fellow, JCUA

Nate SeeskinSeptember marks two new beginnings for me with the coming of the Jewish New Year and my starting as an Organizing Fellow at JCUA. This is not just another year where I look to improve myself, but one where I look to engage with my new community.

Many people look to the High Holidays as an opportunity to reflect on how they can improve themselves. As an organizing fellow I understand that in order to effectively attend to outside factors in our lives, such as family and work, self-care and reflection are essential.

Along with the emphasis on self-improvement, there should be equal weight placed on the betterment of community (Tikkun Olam) and social justice (Tzedek). I moved to Chicago last month largely because I considered it like a second home throughout my life with the personal connections I have here. Yet I can also relate to this city because of its many similarities to my home city, St. Louis. Both are steeped in rich traditions (especially baseball and food) and have a special type of folksy flavor that you cannot find on either coast.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At the same time, both cities are plagued with problems like gun violence and police brutality. Disparities in access to resources are rampant, whether it be the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri or the shortage of emergency health care on the South Side of Chicago. These problems are only symptomatic of a broader problem: segregation. Last year, St. Louis and Chicago were respectively ranked as the sixth and seventh most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. Within this ranking, 12 of the 25 most racially segregated American cities are in the Midwest. As the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is prime battleground for our fight for social justice.

Social justice plays a foundational role of Jewish faith and communal expression. Our history is one of both persecution and perseverance and in our annual period of reflection, we must not take for granted the world around us.

Read the rest of this entry »


Praying With Your Feet: Rosh Hashanah and Healthcare Justice

September 16, 2014

By Leah Greenblum
JCUA Member and Guest Blogger

ACTION ALERT

Thursday, Sept. 18, 4:00 pm
Outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine
Corner of Maryland Ave. and E. 58th St. [MAP IT]
RSVP here

Leah Greenblum

Leah Greenblum

Most of us who live in Chicago are vastly aware of the city’s segregation. For me and many of my white friends, our interactions with the city’s south side are limited to visiting a select few locations. It may be eating the best pasties with a good friend, people-watching the students at University of Chicago, or checking out a mural or 20 in Pilsen. But while we’re enjoying what this area of the city has to offer, sometimes we forget that many of the residents of the South Side are still very much victims of structural discrimination that deeply affects their lives.

What does structural discrimination look like in Chicago? One manifestation is the  lack of trauma center on the south side. While eight trauma centers are distributed throughout the Chicago area, none are located in south side neighborhoods. There are countless stories of women and men dying from treatable gunshots in inordinately long ambulance rides to distant trauma centers.

This maldistribution of resources is an an amalgamation of many inequalities at once. We all know that Chicago has some high violent crime. In particular we know that this crime is often concentrated in pockets of neighborhoods blighted by high levels of poverty, such as Englewood, Chatham, Washington Park, and Fuller Park. We also know that gunshot victims (many of whom are not associated with gangs, but are innocent bystanders) and others who incur events causing trauma (Who hasn’t had a bicycle accident?) are often in unstable physical condition so much so that time—we’re talking minutes and seconds—can be the difference in life and death.

Read the rest of this entry »


%d bloggers like this: