Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Leader Share Faith — But Little Else

Firebrand African-American Convert Is Thorn in Mayor's Side


By Menachem Wecker

Published September 10, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

But criticism of Lewis and the CTU is not hard to find among Jewish parents.

Rabbi Brant Rosen, who leads the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in nearby Evanston, faced pushback after writing a blog post supportive of Lewis. One comment, from “Concerned parent” called her a “bully” and “not a good example of the Torah at all.”

Lewis, who told the Forward that she eagerly anticipates the new beginning and the time for reevaluating spiritual goals that the High Holidays present, says her study of Jewish texts informs her work. “They’re not separate at all,” she said. “There’s this notion all through the Torah about social justice,” she said, though she noted the Torah has some “stuff that’s pretty scary” too.

When she read the Torah section at her adult bat mitzvah recently, the story — about the spies sent into Canaan by Moses as the Israelites approached the Holy Land — was “basically about these guys preparing the way to massacre a whole bunch of people,” she said. “There’s all of these really interesting contradictions and notions of what justice looks like.”

Lewis decided to convert to Judaism after experiencing Kol Nidre services at Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where she grew up. By the time her formal conversion took place in 1993, she was 39. “You look for something spiritual,” she said, adding that that she enjoyed the “spectacle” of Kol Nidre. “I like a bit of pomp and circumstance,” she said. Lewis remains a member at Rodfei Zedek, a Conservative synagogue, and is “pretty much there every Shabbat service.”

“I was telling somebody at kiddush a couple of weeks ago that I’m addicted to shul,” she said. “It’s the one thing that I’m actually angry about if I have to miss it.”

Her schedule won’t allow her to take regular Hebrew classes, but she can read well enough to follow along with the weekly Torah reading, although she doesn’t understand the Hebrew words she is reading. She’d like to learn more about the language and its grammar, she added, and that emphasis on study is part of what attracted her to Judaism.

“You can have a variety of different ways of looking at something, and it’s all considered valuable if you make your point in the text,” she said. “That’s a very rich, intellectual tradition for me. I’m such a geek that it just speaks to me on that level.”

At the synagogue, Lewis appreciates that the congregation is made up of people “with every different political stripe that you can imagine.” She noted that Elliot Gertel, Rodfei Zedek’s former rabbi, under whom she converted, was very conservative politically. Members, she said, know not to accost her on Shabbat with advice or criticism of her work. (Sometimes non-members are less considerate, she added.)

To Rosen, Emanuel and Lewis represent “two very different Jewish responses and different Jewish role models.” The former represents the “power elite” and partners with corporate interests, while Lewis personifies the “venerable Jewish tradition” — dating back to Moses in Pharaoh’s palace — “of speaking truth to power,” Rosen said. “To me, she embodies what I believe to be the best about prophetic Judaism.”

Rosen invited Lewis to address his Evanston synagogue in April and encouraged her to use the talk as a test run for her upcoming bat mitzvah speech. In an interview with Chicago Magazine, Lewis said she saw the Torah portion, Shelach — in which Joshua and Caleb break ranks with the other spies who say that conquering Canaan is impossible — through the lens of her fight for teachers.

“It’s a perfect portion for me,” she said. “It’s about people being told they can’t do something, and they were able to.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.