Each year at Acts of Change, we recognize JCUA community leaders who embody the values of our trailblazing founder Rabbi Robert J. Marx (z”l).
On June 6th, we are excited to present the Rabbi Marx Award for Social Justice to two remarkable individuals, Gerry and Steve Keen, whose lifelong dedication to justice and connection to JCUA have made a significant impact in our community.
About Gerry & Steve Keen
Gerry and Steve Keen’s commitment to social justice began with formative experiences and relationships in their youth. Gerry’s father, Herb Heyman, was an activist at the University of Chicago, where he saw commonalities between the discrimination his Jewish ancestors faced and the modern-day experiences of Black Chicagoans.
Herb emphasized the importance of taking action to root out systemic oppression. The Heymans were deeply involved in Congregation Solel, where Rabbis Arnold Jacob Wolf and Robert Marx presided over Gerry’s confirmation. Herb was also an important influence on Steve, who met and began a relationship with Gerry in their senior year of high school.
Gerry first worked with Head Start on the North side of Chicago, where she tutored and mentored students from underinvested communities. After graduating college in the 1960s, Gerry would spend her days advocating for young women in Cook County Juvenile Court and her nights marching down Michigan Avenue in support of civil rights.
As Gerry and Steve raised their children, she became active with the National Council of Jewish Women, where she helped establish a telephone directory line for resources and support, called Telehelp. Later, Gerry worked directly with seniors, where she applied her knowledge of group dynamics and practices of reminiscence therapy.
Steve has been an active member and supporter of JCUA for decades. He worked closely with the Community Ventures Program (CVP), our revolving, zero-interest loan fund that supports affordable housing projects. He has served many leadership roles within JCUA, including long-time advisor, Board member, CVP Advisory Committee member, and Board President.
In addition to JCUA, Steve has worked closely with justice-focused organizations across Illinois, including Executive Service Corps, Family Service of Lake County, and United Way of the Northern Suburbs.
Gerry and Steve have also been involved in political campaigns, including canvassing for U.S. Representative Abner Mikva and working on Barack Obama’s campaigns for Senate and President. (Believe it or not, it was Gerry who taught the word kvell to Michelle Obama).
Among all their achievements, Gerry and Steve are most proud of the family they’ve created, having just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary and raising their beloved sons Rob and Richie.
In recognition of their unwavering dedication to social justice and their instrumental contributions to JCUA, we are proud to present them with the Rabbi Robert J. Marx Social Justice Award.