Lew Kreinberg (from left), Rev. Shelvin Hall and Rabbi Robert Marx meet in front of the Friendship Baptist Church, formerly a Jewish synagogue (c. 1967).
Lew Kreinberg (from left), Rev. Shelvin Hall and Rabbi Robert Marx meet in front of the Friendship Baptist Church, formerly a Jewish synagogue (c. 1967).

The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs was founded in 1964 by Rabbi Robert Marx, then the Midwest Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) and a civil rights leader in Chicago. Rabbi Marx was deeply involved with the Interreligious Council on Urban Affairs, a city-wide coalition whose members included such prominent religious leaders as Monsignor John “Jack” Egan of the Archdiocese of Chicago, John McDermott of the Catholic Interracial Council, and Reverend Edgar Chandler of the Church Federation. When the Vice President of Merrill Lynch, who had learned about Marx’s work from a mutual acquaintance, unexpectedly presented Marx with a check for $15,000 to support his civil rights work, Marx decided to launch the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs as an independent organization.

Less than a half an hour after the presentation of this initial donation, Marx received a fortuitous phone call about a young graduate student from the University of Wisconsin who was looking for a job. Check newly in hand, Marx hired Lew Kreinberg to be JCUA’s first staff member. In his first assignment, Kreinberg worked with the Northwest Community Organization to support their efforts to fight slumlords in a low-income neighborhood of Chicago. In his role as President and director of JCUA, Marx continued his involvement in city-wide coalitions working on civil rights issues. As JCUA grew, the organization hired additional staff and expanded its work to include more community organizations.

JCUA’s work over the decades has made an immeasurable impact on the social justice landscape of Chicago. The timeline below represents just a few highlights of our work combating poverty, racism and antisemitism.

For a full JCUA timeline click here.

To learn more about our founder, Rabbi Robert J. Marx, click here.
To learn more about Jane Ramsey, Executive Director from 1982-2012, click here.