Bring Your Whole Self to the Table

Categories: Other

By Avra Shapiro
JCUA Community Organizer

Shalom! I feel extremely blessed to have just started working full-time as a community organizer at JCUA. I’ve been involved with JCUA since October 2015, where I was galvanized to join the Trauma Care Coalition after being moved by the strategic and unique role JCUA was playing in helping to get a much needed adult Level-I trauma center on the South Side. I sat on the Trauma Care Coalition as a JCUA leader and representative, and later joined JCUA’s Police Accountability Committee.

I first began organizing at Northwestern University, working to build a base of students on my campus as part of a larger coalition of Chicago colleges and universities, fighting for issues on campus and in greater Chicago. I worked on issues such as getting progressive politicians in office and sexual harassment on campus.

Prior to organizing with JCUA, I had not considered the interweaving of Judaism and progressive power-building. In the Conservative institutions in which I was raised, Judaism was about prayer, text-study, community, and social action efforts such as food drives, donating tzedakah, and visiting the sick. When I started organizing at Northwestern, it was separate from Jewish life and spaces. When I attended a week-long organizing training, a mentor pushed me to think about organizing within the communities where I was raised and knew well – Jewish communities. This was a new idea for me at the time. Though I knew she was right, I did not know what this could look like. I was one of very few Jews, if not the only Jew, at the forty person training. While Jews have a history of being at the forefront of leftist social change movements, in my personal life trajectory, I had yet to be exposed to Jews doing radical work.Where might I find this group of Jews, ready to take risks, think strategically, and work for lasting, long-term change? 

Fast forward, I found myself at JCUA’s 2015 L’Chaim community meeting at which 15 Rabbis, with the support of  200 Jews and community partners, signed a letter calling on the University of Chicago to hold true to their commitment to open up an adult Level-I trauma center. It completely blew me away to see so many people, my people, show up for racial justice. This demonstrated to me that many from the Jewish ecosystem in Chicago do care – we care deeply – and I wanted to be a part of moving our people in a strategic direction that would bring about real change.

As I began to get more involved with JCUA, it felt amazing for me to be at meetings and have such a deep understanding and shared history with many of the people there. To be able to talk about my Shabbat practice unselfconsciously. To be able to bring a sense of compassion to the ways in which there is deep fear and isolation for many of our people, stemming from centuries of collective trauma. To be able to bring my whole self to the table.

I envision a world in which one of the holiest things people can do is put their minds and bodies on the line for justice. Where we dismantle racism in the Jewish community, and blast wide open our conception of what being Jewish looks like. Where we practice “relaxed, vulnerable, loving leadership,” in the words of Dove Kent, former executive director of Jews For Racial and Economic Justice in New York.  Where working for a collective vision starts with transformation of the self and where we support each other’s journeys. Where we show up for ourselves by healing our wounds from anti-Jewish oppression. Where we can say that we believe in our people.

As we build our power, I can feel centuries of lost power being restored in my body.  When we break through patterns of fear and isolation and take risks, call out the status quo rather than try to conform to it, I can feel that power. When we see that we’re building a community to support each other in this work, I can feel that power. As we continue to work towards building a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-class, intergenerational community that reflects the richness of the Jewish people, I feel that power. I look forward to continuing to build with JCUA.