Mishkan Justice Team “Locals” Shabbat Dinners for Police Accountability

Categories: JCUA Campaigns, Police Brutality

This blog post was pulled from Rabbi Lauren Henderson’s d’var Torah at Mishkan on December 29, 2017.

Just over a year ago, in November 2016, 75 Mishkanites crammed into our office space for a standing room only first Justice Team meeting of the year. A lot of people were still furious post-election, and wanted to do something – really, anything – to feel like they were resisting the negativity and blatant racism and sexism that were present, and so getting involved in local organizing was a way to do that.

Fast forward to this past summer. That level of motivation is pretty hard to maintain without losing steam or burning out. Even last November, we already knew that angry energy needed to get converted into a renewable resource in order to promote lasting involvement and positive change. Some of our key leaders were saying: “I can’t show up at ANOTHER weeknight meeting. I’m too fried. I feel guilty for saying that, but it’s just true. And if I feel that way, others probably feel the same way too.”

So what did that mean for our Justice Team? How could we organize ourselves and work together collectively in a way that would renew us rather than deplete us?

We came back to our core practice of sustainability in Judaism: Shabbat dinner. Not just as a place to relax and kick back from the week – although that’s one of the perks – but more substantially as a place to meet your neighbors, share great food together, and dream together about the world as it ought to be. We wanted to create those kind of spaces for the Justice Team, and so we piloted the first Justice Team “Locals” dinner at my place back in October of this year, with 17 folks crammed into my tiny kitchen, celebrating Shabbat, getting to know one another, studying Jewish text, and learning more about the growing movement for greater police accountability in Chicago. It was a big success, and in 2018, we’ll be piloting dinners in 10 wards throughout Chicago, helping people meet their neighbors and take collective action.

A big question we’ve heard is: Why police accountability? Why THIS issue to start with, of all the things we could be focusing on?

There are so many ways that our city and state could be better, but we decided to begin with one of the most critical issues we’re facing: the issue of police accountability here in Chicago, where there is already a strong grassroots movement building momentum for change. We were outraged by the shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 by CPD officer Jason van Dyke. We were stimulated into action after the Department of Justice report was issued a year ago, which called out Chicago Police Department for its patterns and practices of using excessive force, and pointed toward the need for greater structures of accountability.

And as Jews, we know from our own history what it’s been like to be targets of state violence. We’ve known vulnerability, and many in our community still feel this vulnerability in relation to the police today, particularly as Jews of color. We entrust our police with tremendous authority and power, hoping and praying that it will be used for ensuring the safety and protection of everyone here in Chicago, but when that’s not the case, we have a moral responsibility to demand more from those that serve us.

It’s important to say here that this campaign isn’t anti-police. It’s a way of working with people on the ground, and police, to make sure that all citizens of this city are kept safe. Thousands of individuals throughout the city have said this is an area where we have the power to make real change, and we need as many people in Chicago as possible to join us in that hard work.

So, in 2018, look out for our Justice Team “Locals” dinners as a key way to begin to get involved or stay involved in this work through the Mishkan community (and hopefully in the future with other communities as well!) These dinners are designed to build community with other folks in your neighborhood, to learn about the issue of police accountability and how to take action locally, and to ground ourselves in Jewish tradition and practice that’ll keep us rooted for long-term work and relationships.

We’re starting out in 10 wards throughout the city, starting with the 44th (most of Lakeview) and the 47th (Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, and parts of Andersonville) on January 19th, and the 48th and 43rd wards in February. Chicago’s wards, and the aldermen who lead them, are the political building blocks of our city – getting to know the political leadership of your ward, and building community with other folks in your ward for when real ward-related action is needed, is one of the most accessible ways we have as residents of this city to effect change on a local level. Our organizing by ward location is a new strategy that has the possibility to set a real precedent for what Jewish organizing in Chicago can look like.

If you’d like to be involved, I’d love to hear from you! Please be in touch with me at rabbilauren@mishkanchicago.org or with Avra Shapiro at avra@jcua.org. So much of our work is powered by you and your energy, where you’re willing to devote time and talents, so let’s be in conversation together and we’ll see what we can dream up.