Category Archives: Chicago

What I’ve Learned

As our 2013-2014 program year draws to a close, we reached out to some of our corps members and Fellows and asked them to share what they’re taking away from the experience. 

Although the world is a big place, all people have the same needs. Each and every human being deserves to be treated with care and respect. Everyone you meet has something to teach; it is a gift to be able to share your knowledge with them. and in return have them trust you enough to share their stories with you. Social justice has become a foundation to my Judaism and to my Jewish practice. We are called on to care for our neighbors and I have been able to find spirituality in connecting with and helping clients from all over the world.
Elana Gordon

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Begging the Question

By Julia Spiegel

Julia Speigel“I don’t care. That’s not the question I asked you. Please answer the question that I asked you,” my client’s attorney aggressively requested. The statement doubled in intensity when the translator repeated it in Spanish. I am a legal advocate at Apna Ghar, Inc., an agency that serves immigrant survivors of domestic violence and I was accompanying my client to a consultation with a family law attorney for an order of protection and representation. Shocked and a little awed by the lawyer’s harsh method of asking questions and obtaining answers, I imprinted this moment in my memory.

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Leveraging Power for Social Change

By Michal David

Michal spoke about her experience with AVODAH at the Chicago Partners in Justice event honoring Steven H. Cohen, Rabbi Shoshanah Conover, and Julie Chizewer Weill. Her remarks follow below.

michalMy name is Michal David and I am from Sunnyvale, California. My AVODAH placement is at Heartland Human Care Services, where I work as a housing case manager in a permanent supportive housing program for individuals who have previously experienced homelessness and have a disability.

I remember a meeting soon after I arrived in Chicago with my supervisor, my program manager, and one of my participants in one of the large meeting rooms in our office. This participant was fairly new to our program. In the two years prior to entering our program, he had experienced the foreclosure of his home, ended his relationship with his partner of over a decade, and been diagnosed with a highly advanced stage of HIV.  This particular meeting stands out for me because my participant was quite upset throughout the course of the meeting—he was visibly agitated, his voice was elevated and he was adamantly expressing his frustration about how his rent for his unit had been calculated. As I observed the exchange between my participant and my program supervisor and manager, two things were particularly striking to me. The first was the level of compassion and understanding with which my supervisors listened and responded to the concerns of my participant. This unwavering commitment to respectfully engaging with participants, no matter their demeanor or concerns, has continuously impressed me about my colleagues at Heartland.

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A Different “Order”

By Benjamin Altshuler

benjWith preparations for Passover underway at this time of year, my thoughts turn to the elements that underpin community. During our AVODAH house meetings these last few weeks, one topic has been of primary focus. This subject is found at the centerpiece of Passover Seders, as well as other Jewish holidays, and the festivals of every faith and community. I am referring to food, of course.

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Supporter Spotlight: Julie Chizewer Weill

Not everyone has a direct path to the Jewish Social Justice world – some people end up there through a simple twist of fate. Julie Chizewer Weill’s story is a perfect example of how the right moment of connection can lead to a career fighting for social change. As the outgoing chair of AVODAH Chicago’s Advisory Council, Julie brings a wealth of experience and strong roots in the Jewish community to serve as a leader within our network. She has a deep sense of what it means to be an effective changemaker, and draws on that knowledge to advance AVODAH’s mission in the Chicagoland area.

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Moving Towards Action

By Michal David

michal

Sitting on my client’s couch, I am nearly brought to tears as I listen to him share his experience of visiting the Social Security Office. He tells me about sitting in the office for hours, about watching other more “official” looking people pass him in line, and about being treated “like a criminal” by the staff at the office.  As a housing case manager at Heartland Alliance, the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, I am often witness to such instances of institutional discrimination. I am painfully aware of the difference in responses that my clients and I receive rom landlords when calling to inquire about an available apartment and of the stigma that my clients feel when they go to seek care at a clinic that is predominantly for HIV/AIDS positive patients. In the face of such everyday injustices, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the idea of seriously affecting change.

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Catalysts for Change: The Importance of the Jewish Social Justice Movement

By: Abi Weber

Abi spoke about her experience as an AVODAH corps member at the Chicago Partners in Justice event that honored Rabbi Sam Gordon and Jackie Kaplan-Perkins as well as celebrated the accomplishments of alumna Hollen Reischer and Advisory Council Members Lauren and David Grossman. Her remarks follow below.

In Chicago, I, along with 13 other AVODAHniks share a home or bayit over the course of our year of service. Together, we learn to live in community, provide support to one another and experiment with creating our own traditions and customs within a Jewish context.

A few months ago, we convened a salon style type of event over at the bayit. We invited Jews from throughout the city: civil rights attorneys, labor organizers, social service workers and a wide range of community organizers and activists. The title for the night’s discussion was “Why a Jewish Social Justice Movement?”

We knew we had to be onto something, because that evening over 50 people crammed into our little home away from home, piling coats and boots everywhere and snuggling together on the few sofas and chairs that adorn our humble abode.

Not entirely unexpected, people that evening raised questions such as: Why should Jews have a Jewish social justice movement?  Why shouldn’t we just be a part of a global social justice movement?  Why not build an interfaith social justice movement? How Jewish of us – to answer a question with three more questions.

Quickly, however, we all acknowledged that doing both is in no way mutually exclusive. In other words, by organizing ourselves as Jews in no way precludes us from working along lines of race, class and faith.  And in fact this is exactly what most of us do.   But we still had not answered the question, “Why organize ourselves, as Jews, to work for social change?”

One of our guests said this: “Doing good in the world grows out of a sense of understanding one’s own identity.” I took this to mean that understanding my own identity as a Jew grounds me in my attempts to understand others in the world.

Here’s why both this question and answer were so salient for me. Two years ago, while still a college student, I spent four months in Cameroon, a developing country in central Africa. In Cameroon, I was to learn not just about the horrors of poverty, but also about the vibrancy of Cameroonian culture and community.

My time in Cameroon overlapped with Pesach and so a few of my Jewish colleagues and I created a makeshift Seder.  And we held it, no less, in the home of my Muslim host family. Explaining the story of Passover to my devout host brother as he washed his feet in preparation for the mosque was a unique experience indeed.  Ironically, it was the religious dedication of my host family that pushed me to connect more deeply with my own religious identity.

Shortly thereafter, I graduated college and needed to make a decision about whether or not to return to Cameroon for a full year or to spend my post college year with AVODAH.

I am proud to proclaim this evening, that spending this year living within a pluralistic Jewish community while fighting the causes and effects of poverty is among the best choices I have ever made.  I can say, without reservation, that I have grown significantly: as a Jew; as an agent for social change; and as a human being.

At my job at Inspiration Corporation, where I coordinate a communications tool for those who are homeless and living in poverty, I am consistently challenged to clarify my own values in order to be a “catalyst for self reliance.” And at home, I wrestle with the day-to-day challenges of living in community and resolving differences. Both of these themes are supported by the hours of AVODAH programs where my colleagues and I grapple with the meaning of Jewish texts in the context of our contemporary world.

I have learned in our sessions on community organizing that what I am doing in all three of these endeavors is “clarifying my own self-interest.” Self-interest in this context does not come from a place of selfishness, but instead means that fulfilling my own needs is crucial to being able to live peacefully among others. And it is with this sense of understanding my own self-interest that I can successfully be an important part of the growing movement for global social, economic and racial justice.

Each and every day I hear concerns about Jewish continuity. If you could only experience what I experience everyday in AVODAH, you would be able to affirm that the future of the Jewish community is alive and well and vibrant; and that young Jews, everyday, are working, as Jews, to be the catalyst for change that the world so desperately needs.

I’m reminded of something an Aboriginal activist in Queensland once said: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

If we define ourselves with that liberation in mind, I have no doubt that Jewish community and values will continue from generation to generation:  l’dor vador.

Abi Weber is from from Lincoln, NE and attended Pomona College. As a Chicago corps member, she is a Community Voice Mail Coordinator at Inspiration Corporation, which helps people who are affected by homelessness and poverty to improve their lives and increase self-sufficiency through the provision of social services, employment training and placement, and housing, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.