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 »


JCUA Newsletter – February 2015

February 11, 2015

In the February 2015 issue of the JCUA newsletter…

  • JCUA congratulates Arise Chicago and Golan’s workers for winning their strike and first union contract.
  • RSVP to join JCUA and other members of the Trauma Center Coalition for an Interfaith Vigil.
  • Register now for JCUA’s 2015 Passover Seder – Getting to the Promised Land.
  • JCore Member Meeting – Wednesday, February 18.
  • Sign up for Or Tzedek 2015 summer sessions.
  • Save the Date for JCUA’s first progressive dinner – ‘Just Eat’ – on June 15.
  • Rabbi Ari Hart reflects on his work with JCUA.

Read it now


JCUA Inducted into the Trauma Center Coalition

January 29, 2015
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Randi Stern – JCUA Member

By Randi Stern

JCUA Member and Guest Blogger

At the end of last year, JCUA members chose to organize around two social justice campaigns. One of the campaigns we chose was organizing for a trauma center at the University of Chicago. Last week, the Trauma Center Coalition reciprocated by formally voting in JCUA as its newest member. It was a moment of pride and excitement for me to be present as community, student and medical organizations invited us to organize with them. The Coalition inducted JCUA because we demonstrated that we can meet their organizing expectations. It’s a major marker in JCUA’s development as a relevant and important player in Chicago’s organizing world.

► Join JCUA members for an Interfaith Vigil for a Trauma Center, Thursday, Feb. 12 from 6:30-7 pm outside the Duchossois Center on the U of C Campus. More info and RSVP.

The goal of the trauma center campaign is to organize for the University of Chicago Medical Center to commit to opening an adult Level I or II trauma center. There is currently a “trauma center desert” on the south side of Chicago. Someone with a gunshot wound or other serious injury on the city’s south side has to travel over five miles to get treatment, greatly diminishing their likelihood of survival. In an area that needs nearby trauma care more than any other part of the city, it is a travesty that none exists.

JCUA Member joined the Trauma Center Coalition in September 2014 to "Sing for a Trauma Center."

JCUA members joined the Trauma Center Coalition in September 2014 to “Sing for a Trauma Center.”

The trauma center campaign reflects JCUA’s mission: to combat social and economic injustice in partnership with Chicago’s diverse communities. The areas affected most by the trauma center desert are predominately working class communities of color. A diverse coalition organized this campaign, and it is led by community groups who have personally felt the effects of living in a trauma center desert.

Read the rest of this entry »


Or Tzedek Alum Rose Johnson Reflects on MLK Day Interfaith Event

January 27, 2015
Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

Rose Johnson talks with other participants at the MLK Interfaith Teen event.

In honor of MLK Day, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teens from across Chicago joined together to honor Dr. King’s dream for a better world by discussing interfaith solidarity. The interfaith event was sponsored by JCUA, St. Viator High School, and The Children of Abraham Coalition, and hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago (CAIR-Chicago).  Below is a reflection from one of the Or Tzedek teens who participated in the event.

Originally I had planned on going to the teen interfaith event on MLK day so I could see my friend who was also going. But what transpired at the event really got me thinking about what it takes to bring peace to the world.

I should say, first of all, that the event was really fun. I got to talk to friends, both old and new, about interesting topics and hand out flyers that helped to spread the message of peace and equality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard for. In the discussions, both before and after we passed out flyers, I learned a lot about other people, other people’s religions, and what it takes to bring a group of people that have differing opinions to a place of mutual respect and peace.

At the beginning of the event we broke up into small groups. My small group contained an anime enthusiast who went to a Catholic school, the father of a Catholic school student, a Muslim who worked with low income families to make sure they got the resources available to them, and me. It wouldn’t appear at first glance that any of us had much in common other than the fact that we all wanted to be at an interfaith event, but once we got to talking I found reasons to respect each person and each religion represented in my group. Among questions about what our favorite movies were and what our favorite foods are were questions about misconceptions about our religions, questions about who our religious heroes were, and questions about what we’ve learned from our religions. Turns out we all had a lot in common.

It says in the Talmud Yerushalmi: “They sustain the poor Gentiles and the poor of Israel, and visit the Gentile sick and the Israelite sick and bury the Gentile dead and the Israelite dead and comfort the Gentile mourner and the Israelite mourner and wash the clothes of Gentiles and the clothes of Israel due to the ways of peace.” This quote for me is problematic in its wording, yet also really meaningful. While I don’t believe we as Jews should separate ourselves into Jews and Gentiles, I believe that if we dig deeper into the quote it shows the Talmud firmly establishes that, while we are decided along lines of color, age and religion, we must harbor deep respect for and help everyone. The quote even goes so far as to say that we must wash the clothes of the Jew and the Gentile. And all this to build a peace that will last because everyone is contributing to it.

This event showed me that real life empathy building can create respectful environments in which tough conversations can be had and introduced me to relationships with new people, organizations and ideas that I hope to expand upon in the future.

Rose is a 2014 Or Tzedek alum. She currently attends Chicagoland Jewish High School where she is a Junior. Rose is on the board of her synagogue youth group, BESSY. Along with two of her good friends, she also helps run the GSA, which is called Gavah, meaning Pride.


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 »


From Membership to Leadership: Equipping Our Members With Tools for Organizing

August 11, 2014
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Members write down their thoughts about social justice in an ice-breaker activity.

On Thursday, JCUA convened our second member meeting. Following our first meeting in June, the intention of this meeting was to teach skills and frameworks essential for effective organizing.

By equipping our members with some of the same training and tools used by professional organizers, we aim to empower our lay leaders to advance our organizing work with greater efficacy and impact. We hosted our meeting at Yusho, a trendy Japanese restaurant in Logan Square.

Unlike our last meeting, JCUA staff took a back seat and allowed members to conduct the majority of the meeting. JCUA member Stacey Aviva Flint managed the agenda for the evening, allowing all attendees to review and approve of the agenda. Member Shannon Cochran then led a workshop on leadership development. Shannon presented a model of leadership development that relies on building organizational power by rotating leadership positions and allowing opportunities for growth among as many members as possible.

Unlike leadership models that house knowledge and power in the hands of a few, we are offering our members to take the reins as much as possible. Rather than rely on a “head,” “brain,” or “heart” of a committee or task force, we are operating under the premise that we are all stem cells with the ability to assume the responsibilities of leadership.

JCUA’s leadership model is rooted in our own Jewish heritage. A text study – organized by Rabbi Ben Greenberg – demonstrated how leadership models shifted in Judaism after the destruction of the second temple. As Judaism’s leadership moved away from priests and towards rabbis, more people gained access to Jewish knowledge, empowerment, and connection with God.  We are inspired by our tradition to advance leadership in a way that brings more people into the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


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