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Faith leaders gather to honor Chicago civil rights leader Rabbi Robert J. Marx

Civil rights leaders from multiple communities will gather in Chicago to pay tribute to the late Rabbi Robert J. Marx, founder of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and a towering figure in the city’s pursuit of social justice.

The public memorial, to be held June 27 at Beth Shalom B’Nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Community on Chicago’s South Side, will also be live streamed.

Speakers will include some of the leaders of Chicago’s civil rights, interfaith, and workers’ movements. Among them: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who marched alongside Marx for years; Jane Ramsey, executive director of the JCUA from 1982 to 2012; Rami Nashashibi, founder and executive director of the Inner City Muslim Network; the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former president of the Chicago chapter of the NAACP; and Kim Bobo, founding executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Rabbi Robert Marx in a video for JCUA's 50th Anniversary

Rabbi Robert J. Marx Courtesy of Screenshot

The tribute to Marx, who died in March at age 93, comes at a crucial juncture, said Ramsey, who organized the memorial with Bruce Elder, rabbi of Congregation Hakafa, the social justice-oriented synagogue Marx founded.

“This is an important moment, with national attention on issues of Black Lives Matter, on issues of injustice, discrimination, economics, and police violence,” Ramsey said.

“We are also at a time when this country is so divided. What is our vision of our country? Are we a country that is inclusive, and engages and celebrates people of all backgrounds, and understands that this makes our country better? Or is this a nation privileged for a few?”

Marx believed in and worked for the former, she said. With this memorial, she said, “we will celebrate that vision and affirm that we are committed to continuing that legacy.”

The activism of Marx and other historic leaders holds critical lessons today, said Elder. “It’s incredibly important to remember what it took back then, and to consider what it takes now,” he said, “particularly now, a year after George Floyd, after the insurgency on January 6, when there is so much anger, uncertainty, and need for change in our society.”

It is also important, he said, to see Marx and other pioneers as human beings, albeit ones who took on historic burdens and risks.

“If we lionize them, we can’t become them,” he said.

The memorial will serve as inspiration to follow their example, Elder said. “To carry the message of prophetic voices from past generations that still resonate today,” he said, “can only push us forward.”

_The memorial to honor the life and legacy of Rabbi Robert Marx’s life will be at 1 p.m. Central Time on June 27 at Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken EHC in Chicago. Due to COVID restrictions, in-person space is limited. Register to attend in person or via livestream here. _

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