What’s the Matter With Chicago?

Gretchen Rachel Hammond asks how did a city that gave us one of the nation’s most thriving Jewish communities become ground zero for anti-Semitic agitation?

Chicago has long been home to one of America’s largest and most thriving Jewish communities, a vibrant and nurturing setting that gave the nation everyone from Saul Bellow to Julius Rosenwald, the founder of Sears.

For the city’s thriving progressive and LGBT Jewish community, Chicago has as much been that cherished home as it has a sheltered harbor offering the freedom to proudly express spirituality right alongside an individual’s political, sexual, or gender identity. Reform synagogues have seen a continual membership growth, which even includes a migration of Conservative Jews.

Yet, over the past 18 months, the city has made headlines for a series of ugly snubs targeting Jewish organizations and individuals, leading many—the city’s Jews first and foremost—to wonder just what’s going on.

The first sign of trouble came on January 22, 2016, at the National LGBTQ Taskforce’s Creating Change Conference. Held at the downtown Chicago Hilton, the event, bringing together gay rights activists of all stripes, included a Shabbat service and reception, held by the Jewish LGBT advocacy organization A Wider Bridge (AWB). To its participants’ shock, the quiet reception turned into a riot both in the corridor outside and in the meeting room when two anti-Zionist activists stormed the stage and chanted slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” denying Israel’s right to exist.

Condemnation followed even from progressive commentators. An open letter to Taskforce Executive Director Rea Carey was signed by a list of over 60 leading progressives, including renowned Rabbinical leaders, academics, philanthropists, politicians, advocacy organizations, attorneys, and celebrities.

“It is intellectually, politically and morally dishonest to claim that in the name of freedom, liberation, or some other progressive ideal, there is a right to target and exclude Jewish/Israeli groups, to foment physical intimidation and harassment, and to encourage anti-Semitism,” the letter stated. “The larger question posed by all of this is where do we as a progressive social movement go from here?” Continue reading in Tablet magazine