Through March and April, JCUA staff and members are presenting at congregations across Chicago on the Trauma Care Campaign. We are sharing the lessons we’ve learned on putting Jewish social justice values into practice through organizing the Jewish community. On Friday, March 11, JCUA Community Organizer Daniel Kaplan and Member Avra Shapiro made this presentation at KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park.
Why are we talking about the trauma center campaign tonight? Since 2010, black youth in the Woodlawn community have led a campaign for the University of Chicago to remedy the decades-long absence of a trauma center on the South Side. These organizations include Fearless Leading by the Youth, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. Too many people in this area have lost their lives in ambulance rides, bypassing the University of Chicago for distant trauma care. In particular, the lack of south side trauma care has impacted the security and quality of life of black south side Chicagoans.
Over the past year, the Jewish community has played a significant role in this campaign; and your congregation in particular has been instrumental in our involvement. In November 2015, more than 200 people from across Chicago came to your synagogue to attend “L’Chaim” – a Jewish community meeting in support of trauma care on the south side. Click below to see highlights from “L’Chaim”.
On this day, 15 rabbis and cantors signed a statement in favor of the University of Chicago taking a lead role in opening a south side trauma center. L’Chaim was a tremendous moment for Chicago’s Jewish community. Our public meeting for the trauma center campaign was an unprecedented show of support for a local social justice issue. A little more than a month after this event, the University of Chicago announced that they would build a trauma center on the South Side. We think it’s important to reflect on what this campaign has accomplished, what we have learned, and where we are now.
One of the most central questions of contemporary liberal American Judaism is, “how can we meaningfully put Jewish values of world repair and pursuing justice into practice?” We have learned three major lessons over the course of our involvement in the Trauma Care Coalition, lessons we believe can enrich and inform Jewish communities in their continued efforts towards repairing the world.
1 – We’ve learned the importance of building an organized Jewish community committed to social change. Since we were inducted into the community-led Trauma Care Coalition in 2015, we’ve led and participated in dozens of meetings, coalition-led actions, educational events, and large-scale public meetings. I’ve watched the Jewish community’s involvement in this campaign grow from only a few people to dozens to hundreds. It makes me incredibly proud to see a growing number of Jewish Chicagoans come together from across different ages, races, life experiences, and sides of the city to dedicate their time to organizing for social justice. We’ve exponentially increased our ability to provide resources, valuable relationships, and people power to the coalition we’ve joined. Through organizing, we’ve multiplied our ability to live out our commitment to social justice values.
2- We’ve also learned that while engaging in social justice work, we must allow our role to be informed and directed by those most impacted. The trauma care coalition has prioritized the vision and leadership of black community organizations, and black youth in particular. In our work with the coalition, this meant trusting in the decisions of the coalition, even when we felt uncertain, or even uncomfortable about them. It also meant being conscientious about the space that we took up at coalition meetings, checking in with other group members about the way in which we engaged both in public and private space, and recognizing and reflecting on moments at which we misstepped.
3- Lastly, we learned that our Jewish community has a unique role to play in pursuing social justice work. If we want to play a meaningful role in advancing racial and economic justice, we must think critically and strategically about how we can be an asset in coalitions and movements. Our community possesses specific relationships and resources that can augment the organizing ability of coalitions. In the case of the trauma center campaign, our community’s relationships to the University of Chicago as alumni, donors, faculty, and employees enhanced the Coalition’s strategy in calling on the university to provide trauma care.
There is one other crucial asset that we provide to the coalition: our whiteness. In acknowledging whiteness, we can use it in a constructive way by taking actions or entering spaces that other members of the coalition cannot. By using our whiteness in a way that’s accountable to the coalition’s strategy, we serve a valuable function and also challenge the very nature of a system that privileges some over others.
So where are we now?
A few weeks ago, the University of Chicago submitted a certificate of need to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. Additionally, the University is now hiring for a chief of trauma surgery. These recent developments substantiate the latest trauma center announcement in a way not previously seen. More than ever, we are optimistic that there will be a Level I Adult Trauma Center on the South Side.
But now is not the time to walk away from this campaign. The Trauma Care Coalition continues to organize to make sure that the new trauma center includes community partnership. Specifically, we are seeking a community advisory board that represents the voices and needs of all south side community members – including the coalition. This board should have closer access to the University’s plans for implementation and operation of the trauma center. The coalition is also asking for the University of Chicago to fund social services like Ceasefire violence interrupters, which have been demonstrated to reduce gun trauma recidivism and gun violence more broadly.
We’ve only begun to build a relationship with Trauma Care Coalition, a relationship that is grounded in a deep desire for a holistic transformation of this city’s racial and economic climate. JCUA is committed to keep working with the coalition to ensure that we see a trauma center on the south side by early 2018, one that includes community oversight and leadership as a part of its operations. In the words of Jewish Renewal Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, in reference to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “What does this question of holiness mean if it does not bleed out of the synagogue and into the streets?”