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Double Chai Check-In: Rabbi David Russo is committed to Jewish engagement and social justice in Chicago

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Double Chai Check-In: Rabbi David Russo photo

As his third year at Anshe Emet Synagogue comes to an end, Rabbi David Russo has seen firsthand just how much a Jewish community can grow in a short time. Honored as one of the 2013 Double Chai in the Chi, Russo continues to enhance Jewish engagement in Chicago both in terms of involvement and also social justice.  

Russo has been influential in the growth of two prominent lay-led, traditional, egalitarian minyanim in Lakeview: Rose Crown Minyan and Lakeview Minyan. Rose Crown Minyan meets Saturday mornings at Anshe Emet. Russo provides a rabbinic presence and encourages those involved to take on more significant leadership roles.  

“I work with the community to try and train people in what does it mean to take a more active role in the community,” Russo said.  

Lakeview Minyan meets one Friday night a month at Anshe Emet for a service followed by a potluck dinner. Despite struggling a few years back, Russo said the minyan now pulls 50-100 people each time.  

“What’s nice is that it’s also diverse,” he said. “There are a lot of young adults who go but there are also families who go.”  

Beyond fostering Jewish community, Russo has played a large role in expanding Anshe Emet’s commitment to social justice in Chicago. Na’aseh, the synagogue’s social justice committee, has become increasingly active in the community. Russo works with volunteers and helps the group craft its vision of tikkun olam. The committee balances direct service projects with actions plans for creating systemic change.  

Russo also continues to sit on the board of ONE Northside, formerly the Lakeview Action Coalition. Anshe Emet hosted an assembly earlier this year that brought more than a thousand people together including various public officials, such as Governor Pat Quinn. ONE Northside focuses on creating both immediate change and political action aimed at long-term change on issues related to violence, education, housing, economic justice and more.  

In terms of rabbinical duties, Russo’s role has also been shifting. Although he will remain connected to youth programming, he said he’s excited to take on more traditional clergy responsibilities including working with b’nai mitzvah students on their journey to become a bar or bat mitzvah.  

But the biggest change of all came this March, when Russo and his wife, Rebecca, welcomed their first child, Natan.  

“[Natan] is hilarious,” he said. “We just have a lot of fun hanging out together whether it’s taking walks … also thank God he likes shul. We take him everywhere. He’s such a joy.”  

Russo’s colleague at Anshe Emet, Rabbi Abe Friedman, was just named to the 2014 Double Chai in the Chi list. Celebrate all the honorees on Aug. 7 at YLD’s WYLD in Paris party. Register here.

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