Chicago’s Racial Justice Series

Last July, Megan GoldMarche returned to her hometown of Chicago. She’d been away for several years, studying, working, traveling, and becoming a rabbi (she was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2014). But then a dream opportunity came along to serve as the rabbi of the Silverstein Base Hillel – a unique program for college and post-college Jews that is run out of a rabbinic family’s home – in this case GoldMarche and her wife, Paige. (Aside from Chicago, there are four other permanent and pop-up Base locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, DC, and Berlin).

In addition to hospitality events (hosting Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations) and learning opportunities (text studies, cooking classes), service work is a core part of Base Hillel’s mission. They organize two service projects each month, with the support of Repair the World and partnering with local organizations.

But GoldMarche felt it was important to expand beyond service to include justice work as well. So along with Repair the World’s own Rebecca Katz, Hannah Arwe from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), and Rabbi Lauren Henderson of Mishkan Chicago, she started a 6-part monthly series of racial justice books and films.

“Chicago is, and historically has been, such a hotbed of racial tension,” GoldMarche said of deciding to point the series’ focus there. Meanwhile, the Jewish connection to racial justice work, while deeply linked, has often been fraught. “We realized we have to engage deeper and develop stronger relationships,” GoldMarche said. “We had to find ways for white Jewish allies to find meaningful pathways into this work.”

The kickoff was a Turn the Tables dinner on Martin Luther King Day. They learned a series of texts, including one written by the founder of JCUA, Chicago’s most established Jewish social justice organization, about how institutionalized racism and anti-semitism impact relationships between Jewish and Black communities on the South Side of Chicago and the powerful role the Jewish community could and should play in fighting against oppression in partnership with diverse communities.

For the second session they screened 13th, an intense documentary about racial injustice within the prison system. Participants read and discussed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me for the third session. “We talked for hours that night about how we hear and process this powerful story that’s not ours,” GoldMarche said. “What do we do with it, how do we help make change?”

The most recent session, held this past week, was a “visual text study.” Participants watched and discussed curated clips of stand up sketches, cartoons, and music videos created by people of color.

The series, which will run through June, has already made a big impact. “We have new people each time,” GoldMarche said. “It’s young-adult focused, but we’ve had participants in their 60s and 70s and high schoolers too.” Now, GoldMarche and Katz are figuring out how to build off of the foundation they’ve created to continue the conversation and action around racial justice within Chicago and beyond. “Post-election there’s so much desire for action,” she said. “We want to help plant those seeds of opportunity.”