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 $5,000 to support his civil rights work, Marx decided to launch the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs as an independent organization.
A fortuitous call Less than a half an hour after the presentation of this initial donation, Marx received a 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.
Learn about JCUA's achievements from its inception through today.
Contract Buyers League- JCUA joins forces with the Contract Buyers League to fight unfair real estate practices. Westside homes bought on contract by Black homeowners for exorbitant rates and excessive fines led to many evictions.
Interreligious Council on Urban Affairs-JCUA advocates with the Interreligious Council for a new housing policy that promotes desegregation.
Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization-JCUA architect works with Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization to develop an alternative urban renewal plan that would halt the demolition of good housing stock and the displacement of residents.
Marquette Park March-JCUA staff member assigned to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s staff during this stay in Lawndale. JCUA joins Dr. King in the open housing march in Marquette Park.
Northwest Community Organization-JCUA helps NCO handle and counter slum landlord problems. JCUA also assists NCO make low mortgages available for the first time in the community.
SelmaMarch-JCUA organizes buses to join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and 26,000 others in Selma, Alabama for voting rights demonstrations.
Southern Christian Leadership Council-JCUA joins with the SCLC and the Lawndale Union to combat both slum housing and anti-Semitism.
Westside Federation-JCUA begins working with the Westside Federation on issues of low income housing and redevelopment.
Affirmative Action-JCUA adopts a strong pro-affirmative action statement calling affirmative action, “a move toward a prophetic vision of a righteous society.”
Blacks and Latinos in Action- JCUA works with both the Black and Latino communities to jointly address job discrimination at major corporations in the Chicago area.
Black/Jewish Cooperative- JCUA initiates a dialogue between Jewish and Black communities to foster a working relationship. A service cooperative is formed in which the needs of small businesses on Chicago’s South Shore are addressed.
Center for Neighborhood Technology/Chicago Coalition on the Right to Earn a Living- JCUA works with CNT and the coalition on the development of programs that foster employment for neighborhoods seeking economic and social stability. Projects include solar greenhouses, solar panels and converting waste material into fuel and fertilizer.
Chicago Rehab Network- JCUA helps form the Chicago Rehab Network, a coalition of non-profit community based developers.
Coalition of Central area Communities-JCUA works with the CCAC to fight the Chicago 21 Plan that sought to expand the downtown district thereby displacing low income families.
Coalition to Save Cook County Hospital JCUA and Coalition to Save Cook County Hospital fight against personnel and service cutbacks.
FHA Tenants United - JCUA works with the FHA Tenants United to improve tenant living conditions.
Intergroup Communications Project - JCUA brings together a coalition to establish the Intergroup Communications Project, which focuses on the prevention of racial tension and the coalescing of diverse communities to discuss emerging problems.
Nazi March- JCUA works with the Black and Latino communities to rally in opposition of the Nazi march in Marquette Park.
North River Commission-JCUA begins efforts to provide neighborhood stability in the changing community of Albany Park by working with the North River Commission to rehabilitate deteriorated housing and fight slumlords.
Public Welfare Coalition-JCUA helps form and staff the Public Welfare Coalition and successfully advocates a 5% cost of living increase for public aid recipients.
South Shore Commission/Chicago Housing Tenants Organization-JCUA assists SSC in the development and formation of local tenant unions and provides resources to the Chicago Housing Tenants Organization in its campaign to elect independent tenant representatives to Chicago Housing authority Advisory Councils.
Southwest Community Congress-JCUA assists Southwest Community Congress to fight real estate panic peddling, racism and anti-Semitism.
Urban Homestead Coalition -JCUA’s forum on housing rehabilitation and its potential, “Inner City: New Frontier,” leads to the creation of the Urban Homestead Coalition, which would allow local community groups to purchase FHA owned abandoned buildings in order to rehabilitate the community.
Voter Registration -JCUA conducts a voter registration study in Hispanic Westtown and assists in the implementation of a registration drive in this community.
West Rogers Park- JCUA works in changing neighborhood of West Rogers Park in an effort to maintain it as a strong Jewish community.
Westtown Concerned Citizen Coalition-Working with the Westtown Concerned Citizen Coalition, JCUA helps fight the post office’s discriminatory practice of not hiring Hispanics.
Youth Mitzvah Corps- JCUA and the Union of America Hebrew Congregations develop a summer youth corps where young people volunteer services in the inner city.
Anti-Apartheid Resolution/Anti-Apartheid Trial- JCUA passes a resolution condemning apartheid and calls upon its membership to divest itself of holdings in companies doing business with South Africa. A demonstration at Chicago’s South African Consulate office by JCUA and other civic and community organizations leads to seven trespassing arrests. The acquittal of all defendants on the basis of necessity in the trial that followed becomes a showcase for the anti-apartheid movement nationwide.
Chicago 1992 Committee - In response to the proposed 1992 Chicago World’s Fair, JCUA brought together local and city-wide organizations to form the 1992 Committee. The committee, in partnership with other organizations was able to halt plans for fair, which would have drained public resources and displace and disenfranchise hundreds of low-income families.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless- JCUA helps form and staff the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in an effort to educate the public of the homelessness crisis in Chicago.
Chicago Coalition for Voter Registration- JCUA joins the Chicago Coalition for Voter Registration as the coalition promotes registration and representation at community groups, schools, synagogues, food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.
Chicago Covenant- In response to the growing racism over Mayor Washington’s election, the Community Renewal Society, JCUA and other local leaders and institutions draft the Chicago Covenant. The covenant calls upon Chicago citizens to work together for a city of progress, racial harmony and justice.
Hunger -JCUA works with ICARE to organize testimony before city council to increase city funding for hunger programs.
Judaism and Urban Poverty Curriculum- JCUA creates a course entitled, “Judaism and Urban Poverty.” It is used to instruct Jewish youth about the systemic causes of poverty and social responsibility and specifically Jewish approaches to alleviating poverty.
Latin United Community Housing Association-JCUA assists LUCHA in assessing needs and developing strategies for housing low-income single people in the Humboldt Park community.
Housing Opportunities for Women- JCUA creates HOW to provide housing for homeless women in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park.
Mayoral Appointments- JCUA leadership is appointed and serves on the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Women’s Affairs, the Private Industry Council and the Community Development Advisory Commission.
Nominations to CHA Board and CBOE-JCUA testifies in opposition to Mayor Byrne’s nominations to the Chicago Housing Authority Board and the Chicago Board of Education on the basis of inadequate qualifications and disregard for minority representation.
Outreach Program- JCUA launches new outreach programs to enable greater membership participation. The programs include synagogue affiliation, a community organization volunteer initiative, and a speakers’ bureau.
Advocacy Network- JCUA organizes and advocacy network that mobilizes its members to take action on social justice issues. This work is launched in four different communities each called an action minyan, with plans to expand to other neighborhoods.
AMOS- JCUA helps create this new national group whose vision is to make social justice a top priority on the American Jewish agenda.
Associate Division- Eight young Jewish leaders launch the Associate Division in an effort to involve young Jewish adults in JCUA. It is the cornerstone of the future and the foundation upon which JCUA’s mission is transmitted L’dor va dor (from generation to generation).
Carmen Marine Tenants Association-JCUA’s Community Ventures partners loan the Carmen Marine tenants pre-development money that helps them purchase their building. The tenants became the first in the country to use the new Low Income Housing Preservation and Resident Home Ownership Act of 1990 to buy the building.
Casinos in Chicago- JCUA fights a plan to bring casinos to Chicago by promoting other economic development alternatives, working with the Council of Religious Leaders, and helping create the Religious Task Force to Oppose Increased Legalized Gambling.
Chicago Better Housing Association- partners give CBHA a pre-development loan to build housing that will to help torevitalize the Englewood neighborhood, which is known for deteriorated housing, high crime and unemployment.
Church Burnings- A rash of church burnings in the South leads to the formation of a local group, Chicago Unites against Racism and the Burning of African American Churches, to help rebuild the churches.
Coalition for Jobs or Income Now -The elimination of General Assistance, the state aid program for single adults, leads to the formation of the Coalition for Jobs or Income Now. The group, including JCUA, works to pass legislation that creates either income or jobs for those cut off.
Coalition to Protect Public Housing- JCUA helps form the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, a city-wide group protesting the CHA’s plans to demolish 18,000 units of housing. The group works to guarantee housing, protect residents’ rights and give residents a voice in planning for their community.
Community Ventures Program- JCUA leaders Herb Heyman and Howard Landau create JCUA’s Community Ventures Program to work on the development and preservation of affordable housing, and Community Ventures partners, an affordable housing investment program for JCUA members to provide no-interest loans to non-profit developers.
Faith Corp- Through Partners in Community Development, a faith-based group in Chicago, JCUA helps create a community reinvestment fund. Called Faith Corp, the fund targets individuals, congregations and institutions looking to improve the deteriorated areas of their community. Interest earned from the deposits of participants is used for home ownership and improvement, as well as business and job related loans.
Health Care for the Poor-JCUA fights Governor James Edgar’s cuts on income assistance and health care for the poor.
HUD Pre-Payment Buildings- At risk of losing 11,000 units of affordable housing in the Chicago area due to an option available to owners to pre-pay their HUD mortgages, JCUA joins with community and civic groups to ensure the housing remains affordable.
Living Wage Campaign- JCUA works with this city-wide coalition of civic, labor and community groups to back the Living Wage Ordinance mandating companies with city contracts or city subsidies to pay all their employees a living wage.
Maxwell Street- JCUA joins with the vendors’ efforts to save Maxwell Street from extinction due to UIC expansion.
Operation Jericho- JCUA works with Operation Jericho, a program of Partners in Community Development, a faith-based group on the mid-South Side. Over a three year period programming is created at Ida B. Welles public housing development. Apartments are painted and a Laundromat, a library and field trips for the local children are created.
Pilsen Alliance- JCUA assists the Pilsen Alliance, a network of Pilsen residents concerned that local development forces impacting their neighborhood will displace the existing community. Of primary concern are the expansion of the University of Illinois and the passage of the Pilsen TIF. JCUA helps the Alliance gain a greater voice in the planning for their community.
Progress Illinois- JCUA helps start up this coalition of Illinois groups calling for a graduated income tax for the state. This plan would decrease the tax burden for middle and low-income families and would add revenue to the state budget to pay for human service and education programs.
Robert Taylor Residents-Through the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, JCUA assists Robert Taylor residents who fear their community will be broken up and they will become homeless. JCUA helps with education and organizing activities.
Shalem: Black and White Jews Unite-Educational and social program held by JCUA to help strengthen the relationship between black and white Jews, leads to the creation of Shalem (making whole). Shalem creates a curriculum and other programs that increase public awareness and understanding of Black Jews.
State Budget Cuts-Governor James Edgar slashes income assistance and health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. JCUA rallies members and works with many civic and community groups to fight the cuts.
Urban Mitzvah Corp-JCUA begins this program for Jewish college students over the winter holiday break. By day students rehab housing with Habitat for Humanity and by night they learn about poverty from local experts and community and rabbinic leaders.
Westtown Leadership United-JCUA assists this local group in developing an affordable housing strategy that maintains the racial, economic and curial diversity of the community.
Albany Park Workers' Center-JCUA assisted the Latino Union of Chicago in their efforts to improve the wages and working conditions of day laborers in the Albany Park neighborhood and throughout Chicago. In 2004, JCUA worked with the Latino Union to establish the Albany Park Workers' Center, the first of its kind in the Midwest.
Blue Line Task Force-The Blue Line Task Force, which included JCUA and residents of Pilsen, Little Village and North Lawndale, won a victory after a seven year battle, when the CTA announced in October 2004 that weekend service on the Douglas Branch of the Blue Line would be restored on January 1, 2005 as a vehicle through which to advocate for service restoration.
Cambodian Association of Illinois-JCUA provided capacity building assistance to the Cambodian Association to assist them in completing the Killing Fields Memorial and Cambodian Heritage Museum.
Coalition for the Future of St. Elizabeth-In partnership with community groups, including West Town Leadership United and Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, JCUA joined the Coalition for the Future of St. Elizabeth, to ensure that the changes in the hospital structure do not result in a loss of services for the community.
Congress Plaza Hotel Strike-JCUA brings together more than 70 members of the Jewish community and a significant number of rabbis to attend the 5th anniversary of the Congress Hotel strike. JCUA is the only non-union group to speak at the rally, coaching more than 1,000 strike supporters to repeatedly chant “what a shande" (embarrassment) referring to the hotel owner’s refusal to provide workers with adequate salary and benefits.
Developing Government Accountability to the People-JCUA is a key player in coordinating the DGAP network. This large group of community-based organizations have come together to create a comprehensive agenda to hold local government accountable.
Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services- JCUA works with Cook County Commissioners and the Mobilization Committee at the Cook County Bureau of Health and is successful in winning an expanded 2008 budget for the Bureau and the passage of an independent board of directors to take control of running the nation’s second largest public health care system.
God's Gang-With JCUA's assistance, God's Gang, a youth run organization providing positive programs in public housing, successfully sued the CHA for being displaced from the Robert Taylor Homes, which ensures the continuity of programs following displacement.
Health Care Justice Act-JCUA supported the Health Care Justice Act (HB 2268), which developed a planning process to investigate universal health care options for Illinois. This bill is the first step to improving health care access and to providing health care for those who are currently lacking.
"Hotel Workers Rising!" Campaign-JCUA marches with numerous community groups, labor unions and faith organizations. In addition, JCUA supports the Hospitality and Human Dignity Statement, inviting more than 40 rabbis and other religious leaders to sign on to the statement which pledges support to hotel workers who are fighting to join the middle class, improve and secure better lives for themselves and their families.
Housing Industry Oversight Bill-JCUA supported the state Hospital Industry Oversight Bill of 2004, which directs the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board to provide meaningful ongoing attention to hospital mergers that may result in the loss of critical charity care to low-income Illinoisans.
“Housing is a Human Right”-JCUA and the Coalition to Protect Public Housing help residents of cabrini-green file a historic lawsuit claiming a recent relocation order violates their human rights. “Housing is a human right” has gotten national and international attention.
Human Rights Initiative- In 2006, JCUA launched a major initiative to utilize the international human rights framework to create additional leverage for its community-based social justice efforts.
Jewish-Muslim Community-Building Initiative-JCUA established the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative in 2001 in response to an increase in intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment following the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. The JMCBI brings together Jews and Muslims through cultural events, educational opportunities, and mutual participation in advocacy campaigns.
Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago-JCUA and the Community Renewal Society co-convened the Justice Coalition of Greater (JCGC) Chicago comprised of some 100 faith-based, civil rights, civic, and other kinds of organizations. The JCGC takes action against abuse of power by police and criminal prosecutors and all injustices in the criminal justice system.
Lakeview Towers-JCUA helped residents of Lakeview towers in the largest tenant buyout in Illinois history.
Moratorium on the Death Penalty-JCUA and JCGC successfully win a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois. All lethal injections were postponed indefinitely pending an investigation into why more executions have been overturned than carried out since 1977, when Illinois reinstated capital punishment.
Nadiv Social Justice Teaching Fellowship-The Nadiv Fellowship engages aspiring young, Jewish activists wishing to make a significant impact in the arena of Jewish education. A select group of 21-29 year olds is chosen to receive training in the Judaism and Urban Poverty curriculum and is given the opportunity to teach in Sunday school classrooms across the Chicagoland area.
National Initiative-JCUA launched its national initiative with And Justice Shall Dwell There, a national Jewish Social Justice Conference. More than 250 Jewish social justice leaders from across the U.S. attended, officially beginning JCUA’s quest to build a national progressive Jewish movement.
Or Tzedek: Teen Institute for Social Justice-JCUA launches Or Tzedek, a summer immersion program followed by year long programming for marginally affiliated Jewish teens ages 15-17. The program is designed to strengthen participants’ Jewish identity and social consciousness through hands-on social justice activism, study of relevant Jewish texts and discussions with Jewish and community leaders.
Pilsen Alliance Halts Gentrification-JCUA and the Pilsen Alliance organized their rapidly gentrifying community to oppose and stop the development of a 132 unit high-end condo in the Tax Increment Financing District in the community.
Police Accountability Ordinance-JCGC introduced a 12 step ordinance to help to increase police accountability and stop the growing, tragic incidents of police misconduct. The three key parts to the ordinance establishing and effective early warning system, improve citizens’ complaint process and streamline police disciplinary processes.
Police Torture Case/Jon Burge- Largely due to the work of the Justice Coalition, the Chicago City Council awarded $20 million legal settlement to four African-American men who allegedly were tortured into confessions by former police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates. In October, 2008, Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to a civil case about whether he and officers under his command tortured suspects in police custody.
Rabbinical Student Fellowship Program- JCUA established the RSF program, which gives rabbinical students nationwide the opportunity to work alongside JCUA staff in a low-income community learning how to incorporate social justice efforts into their work.
Report Card for Chicago: Through DGAP, JCUA acts as principal author and publishes "A Report Card for Chicago 2006." This historic document is a comprehensive analysis of the city of Chicago, which includes grades and recommendations on issues relating to social justice and democracy. The Report Card also rates all 50 aldermen on these same issues.
SAFE Act/CLRA - JCUA endorses and advocates for legislative initiatives such as the Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2003 Act (SAFE Act) and the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA), both of which seek to restore certain rights to immigrants and others.
Shadow Report - JCUA issues a Chicago area “Shadow Report on the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination”. The report calls for the City of Chicago to “… adopt a city ordinance that anchors its policies and priorities to the fulfillment of Convention to Eliminate all forms of Racial Discrimination and develop robust mechanisms for monitoring the city's compliance.” The report is presented to the Mayor’s office in tandem with a press conference.
Synagogue Initiative-JCUA officially establishes a synagogue initiative focusing on building relationships with new and current synagogue partners. JCUA will work to increase awareness about social justice issues facing our communities and to teach synagogue leadership and members how to organize and to mobilize in support of these issues.
USA PATRIOT Act- JCUA worked with a coalition including the Muslim Civil Rights Center and the American Civil Liberties Union on a successful campaign to persuade the Chicago City Council to pass a resolution opposing the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that threaten civil liberties.