Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)

Intergroup Relations

The desire to enhance intergroup relations in Chicago's diverse setting is a major priority for the JCRC, which is particularly active in interreligious, interracial, and interethnic affairs. The JCRC builds relationships with other specific groups in the city (e.g. African-Americans, Latinos, Catholics, etc.) and within various umbrella bodies.

JCRC and members of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and Chicago Board of Rabbis are engaged in both formal and informal dialogues with leaders in other faith-based communities. The JCRC is a board member of the Alliance of Latinos and Jews and a member of Leaders United (joint project between the Anti-Defamation League and the Chicago Urban League).


Chicago African-Americans and Jews join to honor Dr. King and continue his legacy

January 20, 2015

For the second consecutive year, Chicago's Jewish and African-American communities stood shoulder to shoulder at a Baptist church, which was once a prominent West Side synagogue, for a rousing tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Entitled "Am I My Brother's Keeper? Strengthening the Bonds between the African-American and Jewish Communities," the Jan. 19 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day program answered that question with a resounding "yes." Leaders from both communities gave stirring speeches about the continued need to help one another and build on Dr. King's vision.

"We did not come here just to have a celebration of life, we came here to reignite the dream of a man who was a dreamer," said Bishop Derrick M. Fitzpatrick, pastor at Stone Temple Baptist Church, which hosted the morning's event.

The church, which for the first half of the 20th century was home to First Romanian Jewish Congregation, co-sponsored the event along with the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, The Firehouse Community Arts Center, Sinai Health System and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society.

In welcoming attendees, JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council Chairman Skip Schrayer introduced the theme that was echoed throughout the program. "Dr. King asked us to look out for our fellow man, to be our brother's keeper, and to join with him in the pursuit of full equality and justice for all humankind," Schrayer said. "Today as we reflect on his life and legacy, we must acknowledge that this work is not yet complete." (Watch a video of his remarks.)

Other speakers included musician and motivational speaker Taylor Moore, Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Congressman Danny K. Davis, State Representative Art Turner Jr., and Maury Fertig, grandson of March on Washington speaker Rabbi Uri Miller.

Fertig reflected on his grandfather, saying he was a "fighter for peace, justice, and equality for all people," and who spoke from the pulpit about collective responsibility for one's fellow man and against segregation. Fertig referenced the Jewish community's historical connection to North Lawndale as he reflected on the fact that "today, here we meet, 95 years later on the same street where my grandfather began his journey that would take him to Washington and where he would play a part in the Civil Rights Movement." (Watch a video of his remarks.)

In her remarks Rabbi Geffen asked "what does it mean to be each other's keeper? And how do we act as such in our world today?" Saying that we must reaffirm the strong relationship that existed between African Americans and Jews during the Civil Rights Movement, Geffen urged, "there is so much more we can do together, and there has not been a better moment in the last 50 years for us to come together and dream of what is possible." Geffen closed saying, "Because not one of us is free until every last one of us is free, let us work together, my brothers and my sisters. We are each other's keepers." (Watch a video of her remarks.)

Moore, an award-winning jazz percussionist in her 20s who has shared her message with groups since she was a teenager, followed Geffen's rousing words with a powerful sermon on the theme for the program. "Are we our brother's keeper? Yes we are!" Moore implored, "when we are our brother's keeper, we can speak life into our brother, we can encourage our brother, we can love our brother.'"

Among the speeches were songs performed by the Praetorium Signing Church Choir and Shanka and Brian Pettis. Jasmine Tanksley, 14, a member of Stone Temple Baptist Church and a ninth grade student at Michelle Clark School, also shared her thoughts on Dr. King.

Prior to the event, volunteers from both communities took part in a special service project, preparing and serving hot breakfast to more than 100 members of Stone Temple Church and the Lawndale community.

"I think it's important for the entire community, not just the Jewish community, to get together and realize that we're one," said TOV volunteer Joyce Leviton Asher.

North Lawndale is a historically special place for both African-Americans and Jews in Chicago. The community was once known as "Chicago's Jerusalem," seeing the likes of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, musician Benny Goodman and businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, for whom JUF's prestigious Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award is named. It was also where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in the late 1960s during his affordable housing campaign.

Bishop Fitzpatrick gave volunteers tours of the church, highlighting the Jewish elements that have been preserved throughout the building. TOV volunteer and Gold Coast resident Bob Mednick, who lived a couple miles from North Lawndale growing up, called the experience "nostalgic" and said he was impressed with how the former synagogue, along with much of the area, has been maintained.

"With all the things going on in the world that are discouraging, this is heartening," he said.



Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Tragedy: JCRC's Gun Safety Policy

The JCRC was shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic shooting of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While these acts of senseless violence can be difficult to police, and the magnitude even harder to comprehend, the JCRC and JUF have taken several steps over the years to ensure we live in a safe and secure community.

The JCRC has had a long-standing policy promoting gun safety. Passed overwhelmingly in 1999 by 40 JCRC constituent organizations, the policy reads as follows:

Gun Safety Policy Adopted by the JCRC October 21, 1999*  

The following elements of the JCRC gun safety policy are intended to provide the foundation for joining coalitions, advocating public policies, educating the Jewish community and urging our 40 constituent organizations to also address these issues.These elements are intended to provide general, not absolute guidance on how we address gun safety issues.  

  1. Requires all gun buyers to pass a U.S. Justice Department background check before taking possession of a firearm from any gun dealer, licensed or unlicensed;
  2. Requires all gun buyers to be licensed by an appropriate law enforcement agency before obtaining a firearm from any dealer, licensed or unlicensed;
  3. Requires all gun dealers to register firearms with an appropriate governmental body to allow law enforcement agencies to identify the owner of a weapon suspected of being used in a crime;
  4. Requires all manufacturers to install in any guns they produce safety devices that would insure against accidental or inadvertent firing;
  5. Requires adults to safely store handguns with a locking device and away from children under the age of 18;
  6. Holds people financially accountable who knowingly sell or transfer a firearm to children under the age of 18;
  7. Limits handgun purchases to one handgun a month per buyer, with the exception of estate transfers.
  8. Requires sales of handguns between private individuals to go through a licensed gun dealer requiring a background check.
  9. Bans all automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons that can be upgraded to automatic.
  10. Supports the safe, legal use of firearms for reasonable sporting and legitimate self-defense purposes.

*Passed overwhelmingly, with just one abstention.

JUF has strived to make our community safe and secure over the last several years by working with 45 local Jewish organizations, agencies and day schools to secure more than $8 million in funding fromthe Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program to purchase and install equipment to strengthen our institutions, such as installing a surveillance system at a local JCC, bullet-proof doors and windows at a Jewish Senior Center, x-ray machines at Jewish day-schools, and high-tech security systems at JUF headquarters in downtown Chicago, among others.

In fact, during the NATO Summit in May 2012, the Chicago Police Department used the JUF headquarters as a staging area because the building is one of the most secure in downtown Chicago. JUF also hosts an annual security conference, in coordination with local law enforcement, to inform all Jewish organizations in the area about the latest safety and security measures.

The JCRC is a member of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence Interfaith Coalition. Through ICHV, the JCRC is working with our interfaith partners to protect houses of worship, schools and other religious entites and make them true sanctuaries, safe from the threat of handgun violence. Guidelines about the implementation of Illinois' Concealed Carry Law will be available, along with recommendations for how you can make your synagogue, school or work building a gun-free zone. Stay tuned for more details or email

The JCRC is also a community partner of Chicago’s Citizens for Change, a local community organization that works to reduce youth violence through programs and partnerships that strengthen communities and promote restorative peace-making. CCC supports families and youth who have experienced loss due to violence, is committed to building a citywide response network to support loved ones of homicide victims, and provides opportunities for organizations, social services, and justice systems to work together in a coordinated effort.The JCRC is working with CCC to make Chicago a safer place to live – for all citizens.[To learn more about Chicago’s Citizens for Change, please visit]

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, of which JCRC is a member, has created a petition to express the Jewish community’s pain and resolve to enact comprehensive reforms to end gun violence and ensure access to mental health care for all who need it. In just a few days, almost 12,000 people have signed the petition, which is available at encourage you to review the petition and if you are so inclined, to sign it and share it with your friends and colleagues.

In addition to the many services offered by Jewish Federation and its affiliate agencies related to mental health issues, a crisis hotline is available for families and children who need help or assistance; just call 855-ASK-JCFS (855-275-5237) or email for access to all programs and services at all JCFS locations. Write down this number, use it if you need it and share it with your family and friends. No one should be alone during a time of crisis, and our combined efforts will help support our community and make the world a safer place to live.

Sephardic Model Seder

JCRC, the Alliance for Latinos and Jews, and AJC Access come together for the Seventh Sephardic Model Seder. The Sephardic Model Seder provides an insight into the Passover customs and traditions of the Jews who fled Spain and Portugal during the time of the Inquisition, many of whom resettled in Latin American countries. The Seder is a special traditional Passover meal interwoven with the reading of a booklet called a Hagaddah. The Hagaddah retells the story of the Jews, their Exodus from Egypt following centuries of slavery. At the Seder, Cantor Mizrahi will chant religious and historic melodies in Hebrew, Spanish, English and Ladino.

Catholic-Jewish Scholars Dialogue of Chicago 

The Catholic-Jewish Scholars Dialogue of Chicago was established in the early 1980s and is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Chicago Board of Rabbis. Members of the group include parish priests, congregational rabbis, organizational administrators, and academics.

The Dialogue meets every two months. Sessions generally revolve around discussions introduced by reports which provide insight into each of the faith communities perspectives on religion-related matters (e.g. the nature of prayer; interpretations of biblical texts; attitudes towards cloning; positions on abortion; Messianism; etc.). Matters involving Israel are a frequent topic of discussion for the Dialogue.

19th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture

Monday, March 31, 2014 at 7:00 pm

What Changed at Vatican II: Past, Present and Future Perspectives on Catholic-Jewish Relations

John W Crossin  


Guest Lecturer: Rev. John W. Crossin, OSFC
Executive Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Welcome Remarks: Francis Cardinal George, OMI

Temple Sholom, 3480 North Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60657


Archdiocese of Chicago • American Jewish Committee • Chicago Board of Rabbis • Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago • Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership  

2013 Co-Sponsors:
Temple Sholom and Aaron M. Petuchowski Fund for Excellence in Jewish Education


18th Annual Bernardin Lecture Celebrates Catholic-Jewish Dialogue 

With more than 250 community members and religious leaders in attendance, representing the Catholic and Jewish communities in Chicago, the 18th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture was held on February 20, at DePaul University's Lincoln Park Student Center. 

As part of an honored and long-standing tradition of Catholic-Jewish dialogue in Chicago, the Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture has served as the significant annual event for Catholic-Jewish relations, now recognized internationally as the premier encounter between our communities. The annual lecture honors the legacy and memory of the late Cardinal Bernardin, whose efforts to encourage public dialogue with the Jewish Community opened new horizons for scholarship and interreligious dialogue. The first lecture, entitled, "Anti-Semitism: The Historical Legacy and the Continuing Challenge for Christians," was delivered by Cardinal Bernardin at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel in 1995.

This year's event featured welcome remarks from Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik addressing the topic of "Jews, Catholics and the American Idea," and closing remarks by Reverend Thomas A. Baima about the celebrated history of Catholic-Jewish relations.

Francis Cardinal George began by sharing his personal reflections on Catholicism and Judaism in America. He extolled the virtues of the practice of these biblical religions in America in that they each grant the dignity of the individual while still allowing that individual to participate in American society.

Rabbi Soloveichik, Director at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and an Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, echoed Cardinal George's insights throughout his lecture. He lauded America's embrace of religious differences dating back to the Founding Fathers. He declared that a "just society allows everyone to engage in society and still keep his or her religious ideals" and that respective loyalty to what makes us different actually brings us together. The pluralistic promise of America is that "our faith is an intrinsic part of ourselves and cannot be separated from ourselves as we enter society." Rabbi Soloveichik described America as "the home that different faiths built together," and that building takes place via integration without demanding assimilation. Ultimately, religious freedom is the essence and embodiment of the "American Idea" where we are joined as a nation, but we maintain religious freedom and true justice for all.

Lastly, Reverend Thomas A. Baima, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago, made closing remarks about the illustrious history of the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue and the Bernardin Lecture series. He described his honor in editing A Legacy of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue: The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lectures, which  chronicles ten years of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and features the first ten lectures in the series, written by some of the world's leading experts in the field of Catholic-Jewish relations.

The 18th Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago, the American Jewish Committee, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. The co-sponsors for this year's program were DePaul University's University Ministry, Department of Religious Studies, Center for Interreligious Engagement, Department of Catholic Studies, Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies, Center for Intercultural Programs; and Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Martin Luther King Day Program

JCRC holds an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program for staff members of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and its affiliated agencies. The annual program aims to celebrate the life of the late civil rights leader and the special bond between Dr. King and the Jewish community. JCRC arranges for a community leader to speak on Dr. King's impact on American society. Past speakers have included members of Congress, ecumenical leaders and prominent civic leaders.

In 2014, about 150 members of the city’s Jewish and African-American communities came together at Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale on Monday morning for a unique tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The event, titled Where Do We Go from Here? Strengthening the Bonds between the African-American and Jewish Communities, included reflections on Dr. King’s legacy and the relationship between the two communities, and the singing of songs and spirituals. (Check out videos of the event.)  Speakers included author and Chicago Sun-Times columnist John Fountain, and Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus of B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom synagogue in Homewood, a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the first female rabbi to be ordained in Illinois. Prior to the event, volunteers from both communities prepared and served a hot breakfast to more than 100 people in the Lawndale neighborhood, in partnership with TOV Volunteer Network and as part of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project.  The program was co-sponsored by JUF, Stone Temple Baptist Church, The Firehouse Community Arts Center and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society.




Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  


Where Do We Go From Here: Strengthening the Bonds Between the African-American and Jewish Communities, A Tribute to the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Monday, January 20th

at 11:00 am

Stone Temple Baptist Church
3622 W. Douglas Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60623

Sponsored by: Jewish United Fund / Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Stone Temple Baptist Church, The Firehouse Community Arts Center and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society

Questions? Contact the Jewish Community Relations Council at 312-357-4770 or email  


In 2013, the JCRC was joined by Abraham Morgan, a Board member of Sinai Health Systems and a past Chairman of the Board of Mt. Sinai Hospital, and State Representative Arthur Turner II. The community members in attendance also listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," which you can read and hear here. For a full recap of the event, please go to