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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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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Amanda Klonsky: Tapping into Our Own Stories

January 21, 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.

Asaf Bar-Tura

Amanda Klonsky

Q. When did you work here and what was your position title?

A. I was at JCUA during the early 2000s and was the Coordinator of the Jewish and Muslim Community Building Initiative as the program launched.

Q. What was special about working here?

A. I made several of my closest friends while working at JCUA and entered into a large network of progressive Jewish activists whom I stay in touch with to this day. It was the first time I felt my Jewish identity and my activist identity were in sync and visible in my adult life.

Q. What impact did your work at JCUA have on the community?

A. We began organizing in response to hate crimes and attacks against Muslim community centers and mosques in Chicago. Ultimately, we organized a campaign in response to the PATRIOT Act. We collaborated with CAIR Chicago and several other Arab and Muslim community organizations to pass city council resolutions against the PATRIOT Act. It wasn’t always easy to convince Jewish community leaders that we should organize against the attacks on Arab and Muslim people– but we were able to tap into our own stories and experiences of persecution as immigrants– and built a powerful community across lines of difference.

Q. How did your experience at JCUA impact what you do now? 

A. I spent the last decade working in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, where I co-led Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program– which provides arts and literacy education to youth who are detained there. I then went on to work at Chicago Public Schools, leading an effort to support formerly detained and incarcerated youth in returning to school in Chicago.

I am now at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I am earning my doctorate. I am interested in expanding access to education for people in prison. My interest in these issues was catalyzed at least in part by the important work that was happening at JCUA when I was there, in response to the John Burge torture cases. I was introduced to a whole world of activists who were organizing in defense of those people who had been wrongfully convicted as a result of torture at the hands of John Burge. It changed my life to meet those brave people who stood up and challenged power, after having experienced such trauma.


Amanda Klonsky is currently studying for her Doctorate in Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work is focused on expanding access to education for youth returning from juvenile detention and prison. 


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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