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Rahm's CPS Policies Not Promoting 'Jewish Values,' Group Claims

By Serena Dai | July 1, 2013 7:44am
 Jewish Solidarity and Actions for Schools has protested school closings and cuts. 
Jewish Solidarity and Actions for Schools has protested school closings and cuts. 
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LAKEVIEW — Rahm Emanuel may be Jewish, but one group of Jews wants to make something very clear — the mayor's actions do not speak for all of them.

The Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools formed earlier this year to speak out against Chicago Public Schools closings and budget cuts that they said were "racist" and disproportionately affected the most vulnerable people in the city, member Wendy Mironov said.

Many of the members grew up learning that as a historically oppressed people, Jews should aim to eliminate inequality — not propagate it is as school closings do, she said.

And while they would never call Emanuel a "bad Jew," Chicago's first Jewish mayor's actions do not reflect the ideals that she and her fellow Jewish activists grew up with, she said.

"One of the most important lessons is that targeting a specific group of people is horrific," Mironov said, "and we have to work in the world to eliminate that kind of oppression completely."

The group is made up of 20-30 people who met through various community organizations. Their ages range from mid-20s to mid-30s, with Lakeview as a hub for many of their meetings. 

Since they formed, they've joined school protests and sent a letter to Emanuel protesting school closings, which more than 150 people signed, including a dozen local rabbis. 

Emanuel has previously given speeches on what it means to be a part of the Jewish community. In 2011, he told the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago that the first lesson in life as a Jew is to "do something for those who are in time of need."

"We have an obligation beyond our community to serve," he said at the time.

Emanuel's office did respond to the the group's claims, and shortly after the letter was delivered, three members met with Elizabeth Swanson, the mayor's deputy chief of staff for education.

But even that seemed like an injustice — the group knew other organizations from the South and West sides who had requested meetings but were met with silence, Mironov said. Then the meeting itself was "unproductive" because Swanson spent much of the time "explaining to us why we were wrong," she added.

The mayor's office responded to a request for comment by deferring to CPS.

CPS spokeswoman Rebecca Carroll said in an email statement that the closings impacted African-Americans because Chicago's population declined the South and West sides, which contributed to under-enrollment at schools. The new "welcoming schools" will have more resources, she said.

"We have taken every available step to not only avoid cuts altogether," Carroll wrote, "but have actually redirected hundreds of millions to classroom funding since 2011."

The group still disagrees with CPS and will continue to protest the mayor, the school board and the city's educational decisions. Their next mission is shed light on how interest rate swaps with the Bank of America and other banks are siphoning money out of CPS.

Before the market crashed in 2008, CPS negotiated a fixed 3.66 percent interest rate on money it borrows, but after 2008 rates dropped to nearly zero. CPS continues to pay 3.66 percent, and the group is advocating to renegotiate the rate.

"Our desire is to eliminate inequality as a group that understands what that was like in the past," Mironov said.