What is the Cool Chicago Jews Facebook group and why should you know about it? Converts, queer people, Jews of Color, post-Soviet Jews! Jews of all experiences deserve a place to call home and a safe space. This group is explicitly leftist and they do not use Israel or Zionism as a defining marker of their identity. ChiTribe wanted to dive deeper into the story of CCJ with Rivka Yeker – group creator. Join the Cool Chicago Facebook group>>
The Origin of the Cool Chicago Jews Facebook Group
Cool Chicago Jews unofficially began meeting in 2015 but the Facebook group itself was created in 2016. This group is not an activist group, but many activists are in the group. The core belief is to create diasporic Jewish connections without needing Israel as a defining Jewish marker. We believe that the Jewish diaspora is filled with young voices that are fighting for change; we’d like to think that we are those voices.
The group was inspired by the Facebook group “Cool Jews” which functions as a leftist Jewish platform. Cool Jews was formed for non-Zionist Jews. Cool Jews is “extremely chaotic and often becomes a cesspool of heated discourse” Rivka explained.
Rivka: We tried really hard to feel like we belonged in institutionalized spaces. We felt alienated and unaligned with what we wanted in a Jewish community. After attending a Passover seder hosted by leftist Jewish queers, I realized we all needed a space that existed outside of any institution. A Jewish space where we could celebrate Judaism and ourselves however we wanted to.
Rivka knew the importance of creating communities online while also prioritizing meetups in real life. These Cool Chicago Jewish events include Shabbat, holidays, and other places to get together. The Cool Chicago Jews Facebook group has been an entry point for Jews of all identities to celebrate holidays and have heated discourse with each other, online and face to face.
Not Enough Space for the Complexity of Jewish Identity
Rivka: There is not enough space to discuss the complexity of Jewish identity in spaces traditional Jewish institutions. As I was evolving into my queer identity and embracing the Judaism that *I* wanted to have, creating something of my own made the most sense.
Something that I very much value as a Jew is our ability to hold many differing opinions, while still sharing challah with one another.
The Moderators Behind Cool Chicago Jews
Right now, Rivka Yeker, Arielle Haut, Aaron Meyer, and Mel Rivkin are the moderators of CCJ. They allow the group to manage itself. The group has expanded with other leaders like Isaac Brosilow working with Rivka to coordinate events. Cool Chicago Jews started working with Nell Taylor to use the Read & Write Library space in Humboldt Park.
Rivka: People know what we stand for and what the group’s about — anything that doesn’t feel like it aligns with those values gets discussed amongst each other, and we work on it together. I do think this works for a group like this because relationship-building is core to the trust we have in one another.
The Mission: Cool Chicago Jews
Cool Chicago Jews rejects all forms of racism, sexism, queerphobia, anti-Blackness, etc. This group is explicitly leftist and they do not use Israel or Zionism as a defining marker of their identity.
This group was created as a collective of Chicago Jews separate from any institution, specifically prioritizing queer and misrepresented or silenced voices in Judaism.
In efforts to provide an environment where Jews of any identity could exist as “Cool” Jews (influenced by the FB group “Cool Jews”), e hosted monthly Shabbats at a different home each time, organized holiday parties, and got together for different Jewish events in the city. “
Tell us more about how this is not an activist group but a group full of activists?
Something that is so cool about the group is that it also became a networking and educational platform for people. There are many activists in the group, especially because it is foundationally queer + leftist, and many people would find others to go to protests with and organize with.
Rivka: When we first started, it was Shabbat dinners at friends’ homes — it was very intimate! We’d all bring food, we’d light candles and say a prayer, bless the bread, the wine, eat, drink, laugh. It was special and the group grew and grew with each gathering.
We would rotate homes and even have impromptu Shabbats and themed Shabbats — when Trump was elected, we had a “solidarity Shabbat”, we had a holocaust remembrance day Shabbat, when friends loved ones died, we’d have a Shabbat and made sure to recite the mourner’s kaddish.
Rivka: Slowly, we started hosting Hannukah parties at different people’s homes, we had Pesach in a garage one year, and a team of folks created our own CCJ Haggadah, a Jewish Klezmer punk band that originated through the group and performed.
What different ideologies and gender identities are represented by CCJ that are often ignored by mainstream Jewish organizations?
All ideologies and gender identities are represented in the Cool Chicago Jews Facebook group. People connect and find each other and the communities they are looking for. It truly is just a place to be proactive about the Jewish community they want to see.
CCJ has “a sort of openness and gentleness with all Jews”, whether you are questioning your relationship to Judaism, interested in converting, feeling disconnected with your Jewish identity but still want to reconnect. Converts, queer people, Jews of Color, post-Soviet Jews, Jews of all experiences deserve a place to call home and a safe space.
Rivka: Also, non or anti-Zionism is extremely frowned upon in mainstream Jewish organizations so CCJ provides the space for people to be as radical as they want, or for people to be questioning, confused, interested in exploration and conversation versus being shut off for even thinking about alternative ways to being a Jewish person.
The Evolution of Cool Chicago Jews
Rivka: We had this incredible Passover with 100+ people throughout the night at Read & Write — so much food and conversation and singing! As the group continued to expand, we encouraged people to organize events on their own.
People would host Rosh Hashanah events, Tu B’shvat events. We once had Purim at SketchPad, where many Jewish organizations work out of and put on Purim spiels, listened to a play in Yiddish, sang songs in Ladino, read from the Megillah, danced, and ate hamantaschen.
The group evolved into a collective responsibility. The last event we had as a collective was Purim 2020, just before lockdown, in collaboration with Worker’s Circle at Read & Write Library — we had a whole night of performances, a shpiel, and closed out with a Yiddish punk band, Acid Mikvah.
This is a group intended to create a collective of Chicago Jews separate from Hillel or Chabad. In efforts to provide an environment where we can exist as “Cool” Jews, we host monthly Shabbats at a different home each time (if you are ever interested in hosting, please let Rivka or Isaac know). We also throw holiday parties and get together for different Jewish events in the city. This group is not just an online political group.
We want to create a Jewish community in person first. Our ultimate goal is to make this a thriving IRL community where we can inspire others to revive their Jewishness in a way that is their own and not dictated by something larger than ourselves.
This page is here to facilitate community IRL, more than it is to provide a place for discourse online. We’d love to have all the conversations in person, which we can, but that means ya gotta come to Shabbes! We are a collection of like-minded folks and we hope to provide a community that exists as a safe yet radical space for Judaism.