Rabbi David Russo and JCUA Member Stacey Flint Testify on Behalf of Workers’ Rights

February 20, 2015

Last week, the Cook County board voted overwhelmingly to pass one of the nation’s toughest wage theft laws. JCUA leaders provided testimony in support of the legislation. These statements by Stacey Flint and Rabbi David Russo reinforce the importance of workers rights in Jewish values and in the Jewish community.


‘We Are All Responsible.’

Testimony by Rabbi David Russo, Anshe Emet Synagogue

Every week, Jews around the world read from the Torah. And in this coming week [Feb. 9-13], we will all read a particular verse from the Book of Exodus (22:21-22):

Rabbi David Russo

Rabbi David Russo

כָּל־אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן

You shall not afflict any widow, or orphaned child.

אִם־עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה אֹתוֹ

If you afflict them in any way,

כִּי אִם־צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי

If they cry to me,

שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ

I God will surely hear their cry.

Rabbinic tradition asserts that the Bible is identifying afflictions not only of a specific group of people, i.e. widows or orphans, but any teshushei koach, anyone who is weak, who is vulnerable (Rashi).

And Jewish tradition emphasizes that God will not only bring consequences upon the people inflicting the damage – but that if people are aware of the injustice, and they do nothing, then the punishment is upon the entire community (Ibn Ezra).

We all are responsible. Read the rest of this entry »


Kalman Resnick: ‘Our Immigration System is Broken, and Everybody Knows It’

January 13, 2015

Kalman Resnick

For 41 years, longtime JCUA Leader and prominent attorney Kalman Resnick has defended the rights of immigrants and their families. JCUA is pleased to share the following Dvar Torah, presented by Kalman at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue on Jan. 9, expressing the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S and why you should care.

This week’s Torah portion, Sh’mot, provides a spectacular backdrop for this D’var Torah. In Sh’mot we begin reading the Book of Exodus. At the beginning of Exodus, we are enslaved in Egypt. G-d instructs Moses and his brother Aaron to lead our people to freedom. Moses resists G-d’s instruction, telling G-d that he, Moses, is not up to the task and expressing his doubt that the people will follow his leadership. But G-d insists and Moses and Aaron proceed to execute a plan for our liberation from slavery.

Tonight I will address why this story of our Exodus from Egypt commands that we as American Jews support the enactment of progressive and comprehensive immigration reform and why in the absence of such legislation, we must support our President’s Executive Orders protecting approximately one-half of our nation’s more than 11.5 million undocumented residents from deportation.

At the beginning of his speech on November 20th announcing his latest executive action protecting undocumented immigrants, President Obama declared:

“For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken – and everybody knows it.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Jewish Values Stand With The Workers of Golan’s Moving and Storage

August 22, 2014

Rabbi Ben Greenberg

For almost a month the workers of Skokie, Ill. based Golan’s Moving and Storage have been on strike. The nearly 80 employees of the locally owned moving company voted to form a union at the end of 2013 in response to numerous unfair labor practices and outright reports of illegal activities. For example, there are currently 10 complaints of wage theft against the company under active investigation at the Department of Labor. Workers would be told to work a 14 hour day but only get paid for 8 of those hours. Since organizing as a union the employees have been unsuccessful in multiple attempts to negotiate a contract with the owners. The owners have cancelled negotiation dates nearly 6 times. All of this behavior is clearly in violation of not only ethics but of Jewish law and Jewish values.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bring Immigration Justice Into Shavuot #Torah Study

May 7, 2014

Forty nine days after the holiday of Passover comes the holiday of Shavuot. If on Passover we are meant to recall and relive the experience of redemption from oppression, servitude and injustice then on Shavuot we are meant to recall how we catalyze that experience for real change and good. Passover is the life-altering moment and Shavuot is the day after. For centuries Jewish communities have utilized Shavuot as an opportunity for all night study and reflection. This tradition still continues and people all over the Chicagoland area will be participating in either formal programs or informal learning on the night of the holiday.

text study image

Download The Text Study

JCUA has prepared a unique text study guide that you can use to enhance your Shavuot learning and to bring the topic of immigration justice alive through the Jewish tradition.

Since 2008 more than two million individuals have been deported from the country. These people are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and loved ones. Families have been torn apart and people are crying out in pain and despair. This is an issue that directly impacts our city as families throughout Chicago have experienced the terror of detention and deportation.

We hope that this text study guide will be an educational resource to share broadly on how this issue is a deeply Jewish issue, rooted in the very foundational texts of the Jewish faith.

Please let us know how you used this study guide, we would love to hear your feedback!


After The Funeral: From Jacob to Mandela

December 11, 2013

A Note on the Weekly Torah Portion

Asaf Bar-Turaby Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Operations, JCUA

—–

Imagine the funeral procession: The leaders of the most powerful nation on earth paid their respects. Thousands of people traveled thousands of miles to attend. The departed was the great patriarch, who was nothing less than the father of a new nation.

This is how Jacob’s funeral is described in this week’s Torah portion – Parashat “Vayechi.” As we all watch the events mourning Nelson Mandela this week, we can turn to “Vayechi” to understand what matters about this momentous event.

Now what? What happens “after the funeral”?

In the wake of Jacob’s death, his sons are anxious. Will their brother Joseph – now in a powerful position of leadership – take the opportunity to avenge the way they had treated him. Remember, they sold Joseph to slavery and caused his imprisonment. And so they pleaded:

“Please, forgive now your brothers’ transgression and their sin, for they did evil to you. Now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis, 50: 17).

As it turns out, Joseph leads the family in a process of reconciliation. Though he endured slavery, imprisonment and maltreatment, he forgives.

We could end our reading here, but we would be missing something crucial about forgiveness – Joseph’s and Mandela’s.

Dr. Tariq Ramadan commented on Mandela’s legacy, that “the courage to forgive comes after the courage to resist.” Forgiveness and reconciliation come here at the end of the process. For Joseph and for Mandela, forgiveness does not mean reconciling yourself to being oppressed by others. Forgiveness comes from a position of power. It is the virtue and wisdom of the victor.

Aristotle argued that the key to a virtuous life is practical wisdom (“phronesis”). This is the wisdom to understand what the situation calls for. A time to forgive and a time to resist. A leader knows the difference.

Yes, the wisdom to forgive is crucial for any community charting its way “after the funeral.” But to reach this point, we must first have the courage to overcome oppression and to challenge social injustice.

Mandela Courage


The Paths to Transformation (Torah Commentary)

December 4, 2013

What does it take to grow as a person or institution? What kind of transformation is necessary? In what ways must we leave our comfort zones in order to thrive? This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Vayigash – gives us a few clues to these questions.

Asaf Bar-Turaby Asaf Bar-Tura
Director of Operations, JCUA

This week we find Jacob’s family facing a famine, and pleading for help from Pharos’s deputy in Egypt (whom they don’t realize is actually their brother Joseph). At first Joseph tells them that in return for help, he demands to keep their brother Benjamin as a slave. He then agrees to help them, and reveals his identity (I’ll get back to that in a moment).

The brothers go to back to their father, Jacob (who is still in Cna’an, today’s Israel/Palestine), and he moves his whole family to Egypt, escaping the famine. This is where I’d like to start.

On the way to Egypt, as Jacob is leaving his home, G-d says to him: “Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation” (Genesis, 46:3). So our first question is, Why does G-d promise to make Jacob into a great nation in Egypt, of all places? For me, the first lesson here is that growth and transformation mostly comes about when you are outside your comfort zone. When you pursue what is yet unknown. And it’s ok to be anxious. But no need to be afraid.

But how was this made possible in the first place? How was Joseph persuaded to reveal his identity to his brothers? This brings us back to the name of this Torah portion – “Vayigash.” The Hebrew meaning of this word is, “to come close,” or “to approach.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sachs points out, it was when Joseph’s brother – Judah – approached him up close, that Joseph finally broke into tears and revealed himself.

Remember, Judah was not aware that he was talking to his brother. As he was pleading on behalf of his family, he was talking to one of the most powerful people in the land. And yet, to accomplish his goal, Judah realized he needs to get closer, to approach. We can touch others powerfully when we overcome barriers and fear, and get close to one another.

To recap, so far we learn that transformation and change happen when you leave your comfort zone, and also when you get up close to others, approaching them on their terms.

But we would miss the drama of the Torah portion if we did not pay more attention to Judah, the brother who plead for Benjamin before Joseph. Rabbi Sachs reminds us that a few chapters before this one, Judah was the brother who proposed selling Joseph off to slavery. In light of this past behavior, it is all the more dramatic that Judah is the one to propose that he (Judah) stay as a slave in Benjamin’s stead (Genesis, 44: 33). The man who sold his brother to slavery, is now willing to go into slavery to save his brother.

It is Judah – the one after whom Judaism is named – who undergoes a dramatic transformation.

Takeaways from “Vayigash”? Perhaps that inspirational, transformative processes happen when we are bold enough to step out, and step closer. When we are willing to accept that things can be better than they are, in us, and in our circles.


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