JCFS/HIAS and the Chicago Jewish Coalition for Refugees (CJCR)





For more than a century, JCFS Chicago/HIAS has successfully resettled refugees from conflicts around the world in the Chicago Metropolitan area. In 2019, in response to troubling anti-refugee federal policies, an international refugee organization (HIAS International) asked HIAS Chicago to construct a regional advocacy coalition. The HIAS program director was excited to do the work but wanted guidance in building an advocacy coalition.  JCFS CEO Howard Sitron turned to Roberta Rakove and Suzanne Strassberger, both seasoned at navigating the complex world of state and local government and experienced in mobilizing coalitions on behalf of policy initiatives.

Photo 2.jpg

Courtesy of MISHKAN-Chicago



It was clear from our first meeting with Jessica Schaffer, HIAS program director, that she had built strong relationships with over 60 Jews from a variety of synagogues and other Jewish affinity groups, all passionate about the idea that the Jewish community needs to speak out for refugees because once we were all refugees. How to transform this ardent group into a robust coalition, united in their goals and disciplined in their follow-through?     

Modern Chicago Skyline
The path forward centered on coaching Ms. Schaffer.
She brought a history of leadership and a gift for inspiring all
she met to the table.
R&S partnered with Jessica around:

Messaging and communications around creating a name, framing the coalition vision, mission, and goals, membership recruitment, and advocacy testimony and letters.


Designing the coalition structure: leadership, volunteer roles, decision-making, membership dues, advocacy plan development.


The small “p” of keeping close to both the international refugee organization and the organization that houses HIAS Chicago while staying true to the goals.

Making quick decisions about advocacy positions and Coalition voices around emerging issues.

Responding in the new “sheltering in place” world under COVID  19.

JCUA Seder 2.jpg


The Impact

Six months later, more than 15 Jewish congregations and affinity groups and many individuals have signed on as members of the Chicago Jewish Coalition for Refugees (CJCR). They are active:  hosting HIAS Refugee Shabbats at local synagogues, speaking out against increases in citizenship applications, and successfully persuading the Governor and county officials to respond affirmatively to the Presidential Order around resettling refugees.  New alliances with other organizations working with and advocating on behalf of refugees have been formed.  


Members take responsibility for creating the website, maintaining a connection with the national organization, monitoring the political situation, writing letters, and recruiting new Jewish activists. It is the program director that keeps it humming. We are confident that the Coalition will successfully meet its one- year goals as measured by growth in membership and execution of public policy advocacy initiatives and other volunteer opportunities.  We will continue to be there for Ms. Schaffer for strategic planning and advocacy consultation but our work is mostly done. The Coalition is launched and posed to influence.

Image by Lance Anderson


We knew we wanted this opportunity but were less sure about how to successfully get there. Jewish activists were looking for resources, volunteer opportunities, policy advocacy and mutual support. Through an effective mix of needs assessment, program planning and implementation combined with effective coaching from R & S, our content experts effectively executed to make this coalition a reality. The engagement ranged from crafting mission and purpose to navigating sensitive political waters. The R&S team was insightful and inspiring, and worked with passion and compassion. We look forward to our next opportunity to partner with them.