August 24, 2016
By Iszy Licht
I first connected with JCUA two years ago through my work as a student activist at Northwestern University. I was the President of a new student group on campus committed to working against gun violence, Northwestern Students for Gun Violence Prevention. We volunteered at the JCUA’s 2014 Freedom and Justice Seder. This event was both meaningful and inspiring, providing me with an opportunity to learn more about the devastating impact of gun violence on Chicago’s communities, while also celebrating and putting into action my Jewish practices and values. I have been an enthusiastic member of JCUA ever since.
I believe in a Judaism rooted in action and social justice. Tikkun Olam, the traditional Jewish concept urging individuals to engage in social action, has always been a major component of my Jewish identity. Through my parents’ values, volunteering experiences, Jewish education at Solomon Schechter and Chicagoland Jewish High School (now called Rochelle Zell Jewish High School), and college courses on racial and socio-economic inequalities, my Jewish identity has become inextricably linked to my beliefs in progressive values and equality.
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July 25, 2016
By Ben Goldsmith
On July 10th, I was thrilled to attend Jewish Council on Urban Affairs’ first daylong community organizing training for members. On a clement summer Sunday, 30 JCUA members spent eight hours learning the nuts and bolts of organizing, connecting with each other, and discussing what a Jewish voice in social justice organizing sounds like. The strength of member interest in this training says a great deal about the appeal of JCUA’s contributions to the University of Chicago trauma center campaign and the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights campaign to members of the Jewish community. It says that members of Jewish communities throughout Chicago are connecting with JCUA’s vision and are hungry for opportunities to work for social change by organizing Jewishly. For most members in attendance, this was the first formal organizing training. As a full time tenant organizer, I have gone through Organizing 101 types of trainings in the past but I had never trained in community organizing with an emphasis on Jewish values, or what JCUA calls “organizing Jewishly.”
The training was led by JCUA’s Director of Organizing, Marla Bramble, Jim Field, Director of Organizing with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and Aryeh Bernstein, a JCUA member and consultant. JCUA members learned about building and leveraging people power, and equalizing power relations to change the minds of decision makers. This included practical skills, including the basics of organizing an accountability session with an elected official or other decision maker, and the effective framing of an organizing campaign. Members also tried their hands at the all-important 1-on-1: the bread and butter of community organizing. In a 1-on-1, the organizer builds a relationship with a community member through… Read the rest of this entry »
March 23, 2016
Through March and April, JCUA staff and members are presenting at congregations across Chicago on the Trauma Care Campaign. We are sharing the lessons we’ve learned on putting Jewish social justice values into practice through organizing the Jewish community. On Friday, March 11, JCUA Community Organizer Daniel Kaplan and Member Avra Shapiro made this presentation at KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park.
Why are we talking about the trauma center campaign tonight? Since 2010, black youth in the Woodlawn community have led a campaign for the University of Chicago to remedy the decades-long absence of a trauma center on the South Side. These organizations include Fearless Leading by the Youth, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. Too many people in this area have lost their lives in ambulance rides, bypassing the University of Chicago for distant trauma care. In particular, the lack of south side trauma care has impacted the security and quality of life of black south side Chicagoans.
Over the past year, the Jewish community has played a significant role in this campaign; and your congregation in particular has been instrumental in our involvement. In November 2015, more than 200 people from across Chicago came to your synagogue to attend “L’Chaim” – a Jewish community meeting in support of trauma care on the south side. Click below to see highlights from “L’Chaim”.
On this day, 15 rabbis and cantors signed a statement in favor of the University of Chicago taking a lead role in opening a south side trauma center. L’Chaim was a tremendous moment for Chicago’s Jewish community. Our public meeting for the trauma center campaign was an unprecedented show of support for a local social justice issue. A little more than a month after this event, the University of Chicago announced that they would build a trauma center on the South Side. We think it’s important to reflect on what this campaign has accomplished, what we have learned, and where we are now. Read the rest of this entry »
February 10, 2016
By Anna Rubin
JCUA’s AVODAH Organizing Fellow
On January 27, JCUA traveled to Springfield with the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC) to protest the continuing budget impasse during Governor Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address. The night before, my AVODAH bayit had a program called “Jews and the Civil Rights Movement.” We had the opportunity to speak with Marv Hoffman and Rosellen Brown, who moved to Mississippi near the end of Freedom Summer to teach at Tougaloo College, an Historically Black College founded in 1869. Their time there continues to inform their dedication to racial justice work today.
During the program, they posed a challenging question to us: Do you plan to be a revolutionary? Practically, becoming a revolutionary had not been part of my game plan (I’ve seen Les Mis too many times), but the budding idealist in me wanted to respond yes. After letting us sit with the question for a moment, Marv and Rosellen told us that despite working for years in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement, and despite participating in radical educational and literary circles up through today, they do not consider themselves revolutionaries, or even particularly radical. For them, being a revolutionary means blurring lines between your work life and your personal life, means putting your personal safety on the line consistently, means ignoring the potential harm to those around you for what you deem to be the common good. We shouldn’t all be revolutionaries, but we all have a role to play in the fight, and we must be thoughtful and intentional about what that role is. They encouraged us to critically consider how we are living out and acting on our values every day right now, and how we will choose to fight for justice, in our work this year and in our lives moving forward.
Their words bounced around in my head as we made the three and a half hour journey down to Springfield in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. This was my first trip to Springfield. I had spent the past two months recruiting and planning in preparation for this day, yet I really didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a lot of people? Would everything go as planned? Would it feel like “enough”? That last question had gained additional weight for me since the previous night’s program, especially considering that seven of my housemates decided to take a day off of work to join us on this journey. Would they feel as though their participation was valuable?
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September 2, 2015
Choice, Privilege and the Fight for South Side Trauma Care
By Michal David
On June 3rd of this year I, along with eight other trauma center activists, was arrested for participating in an action of civil disobedience on behalf of the Trauma Care Coalition. During this action we barricaded ourselves into the front lobby of the University of Chicago’s Administration Building. Our goal was to secure a meeting with University President Robert Zimmer to discuss the opening of a life-saving Level-I trauma center at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
We were detained by University and City Police for 45 hours, about four times longer than the average time people in the US are held for actions of civil disobedience. All nine of us were charged with criminal trespassing, mob action and resisting arrest. The 45 hours I spent in jail were some of the most challenging of my life; I was handcuffed to a bench in an interview room for eleven hours, I was denied access to my medications and to adequate food, and I was continuously dehumanized by the officers charged with protecting me. Three days after release from police custody, we all received letters from the University of Chicago informing us that we were permanently banned from the University’s campus as a consequence of our actions. Just this past week, the University sent a private investigator to my home at 7:00am to again deliver a letter explicitly banning me from campus for life.
This is one of the first times I have shared my experience publicly. Following my release, at the urging of my lawyers, I decided to keep a low public-profile until the legal proceedings related to my arrest were concluded. As a result, I have spent the past few months processing what was both a traumatic and empowering experience with family and friends. One of the most common questions I encountered in response to my arrest was ‘Why? Why choose to be arrested?’. As I have not been able to speak publicly to my experience until now, what follows is my attempt to offer an answer to what I think is ultimately a very important question. Read the rest of this entry »
May 4, 2015
By Daniel Kaplan
JCUA Community Organizer
On April 14th, JCUA delivered 200 signatures collected from our members, community partners and allies, to University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer. We want to share more with you about this successful action along with other updates from the past month. We also want to give you more follow-up opportunities, so don’t forget to check them out at the bottom of this blog!
JCUA members and other members of the Trauma Care Coalition entered President Zimmer’s office dressed up as Moses and Miriam. Singing, “Go down Moses,” we presented the signatures and called for President Zimmer to meet with the broader Trauma Care Coalition. Check out photos from this action here and a video here.
After this action , the University of Chicago called our office and offered to arrange a meeting with a U of C Vice President (Cristal Thomas) and a senior adviser to President Zimmer (Susan Sher). While we were excited to secure this meeting, the broader coalition had already met with these administrators several times, and the university’s delegates have never followed through on agreements produced in these meetings. The University of Chicago has never agreed to include a key decision maker in any of these meetings, such at President Zimmer, Dean Kenneth Polonsky, or University of Chicago Medical Center President Sharon O’Keefe.
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April 30, 2015
A Reflection on the Campaign for a Level-I Trauma Care Center By Aryeh Bernstein JCUA Member (You can also view this post at Jewschool: Progressive Jews and Views, of which Aryeh is the Senior Editor)
A disproportionate amount of the alarming gun violence in Chicago takes place on the South Side, yet the South Side lacks even a single level one adult trauma center. Consequently, gunshot victims sometimes minutes from death must be transported miles away to Downtown or North Side hospitals. In 2010, after Damien Turner, an 18-year-old resident of the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood, died waiting for an ambulance to drive him ten miles to a downtown hospital instead of two blocks to the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), a grassroots collaboration of community organizations, faith leaders, and University of Chicago student groups began organizing the Trauma Center Coalition, dedicated to reopening a Level 1 adult trauma center at UCMC, the most well-resourced hospital on the South Side. So far, the university has refused. As part of the coalition’s ongoing campaign, last week, dozens of activists gathered on the university’s historic Midway field, for a vigil of prayer and song from different faith traditions. At dusk, participants lit candles to spell out “Trauma Center Now”, right across from the home of U. Chicago President Robert Zimmer, and then camped out for the night. As a representative of coalition partner Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, I was invited to offer a Jewish prayer, which is reproduced here; I read it in both the English and Hebrew. Read the rest of this entry »