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Ora Schub: In memoriam

Por Hatem Abudayyeh |
June 13, 2018
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Ora Schub: In memoriam

By Hatem Abudayyeh

Chicago, IL - To me, Ora Schub is a Palestinian. Her parents, who practiced Judaism, were born in Palestine before the founding of the settler-colonial state of Israel, so in essence, they were Palestinian Jews. And Ora took her nationality from her parents, so in my book, that makes her a Palestinian. But even if she didn't identify as one, Ora made a decision long ago to be an anti-Zionist and an anti-racist, and to join the movement in support of Palestinian self-determination, in support of the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and in support of ending Israeli colonization and occupation of all Arab lands.

When she was younger, she went to Hebrew school and probably learned much about the myths of Israel's founding, that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land" and that the European Jewish settlers "made the desert bloom." But as soon as she was old enough to make her own determination about faith, she decided that she wouldn't identify with Judaism or any religion. The issue, to her, was a simple one that had nothing to do with faith. It was as simple as white settlers from Europe stealing land and pushing out the indigenous Palestinians. And that, she flatly rejected.

The only solution to her was to defeat Zionism and build a pluralistic society in a single, democratic state for all who live in historical Palestine (which is what we Palestinians call the land, collectively, of present day Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza - "from the river to the sea"). And so we easily hit it off, because that's what I believe as well.

My friend Ora Schub died on Monday, June 11, 2018, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her family and closest friends. I visited her a number of times while she was in hospice, and although it was sometimes a struggle for her to speak, she continued to be as thoughtful and funny as ever while we whispered our final words to each other. And for those who know her best, she was still able to raise her eyebrows and roll her eyes in semi-disgust when I said something obnoxious or not quite as funny as I thought it was.

I'm not sure that I got to say everything I wanted to her, or she to me, but I was at least able to tell her two undeniable truths: that she was as important a colleague as I've ever had at the Arab American Action Network (AAAN). And that I loved her.

When I met Ora, it was 1999, and I had just been hired as the AAAN's youth program director. Amongst the co-founders of the organization were the legendary Arab community organizers Camilia Odeh and Maha Jarad, who know my family well and asked me to apply. Ora was recruited by them as a member of the AAAN's founding board of directors and remained one until her death.

Full disclosure: she tried to resign many times, saying that she didn't want to be like the Mayors Daley and stay in a leadership position for decades, but I'd respond by inviting her out to lunch in Hyde Park near her home and office, and invariably convince her to stay.

Whenever there was a crisis I was dealing with at the AAAN, Ora was my first call. She had a way of calmly, thoughtfully, and honestly assessing every situation, and giving me advice that always helped resolve the challenges we were facing. As a long-time community organizer and advocate, she also played a leading role in shaping our youth organizing work, by reviewing grants and work plans, participating in site visits with funders, and supporting our programs, projects, and actions with her presence and her brilliant analyses and critiques.

She was always there for me in times of personal crisis as well, and I'll always appreciate that just as much.

Although I never had the pleasure of participating in any of her restorative justice circle trainings, and although it took a few conversations for her to convince me of its efficacy, the methodology became a staple of our work at the AAAN. Rasmea Odeh, our former associate director and Arab Women's Committee coordinator, was trained by her, as well as a few of our youth organizers over the years. We still use circles in the organization to this day, at every level of our work. Ora and Cheryl Graves, her close friend and together, co-directors of the Community Justice for Youth Institute, are the forebears of Chicago's restorative justice movement.

I never really understood how important Ora was in that movement until her cancer metastasized and she went back to the hospital for more chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. I visited Northwestern Hospital the day she had a tumor removed from her spine, and over a number of subsequent visits, I read all the cards and notes people had left for her, saw the dozens of beautiful pictures people had pinned to a bulletin board in her hospital and hospice rooms, and met a number of extraordinary organizers and activists who all described Ora as their teacher.

Hundreds of people visited her near the end, people from all walks of life and all nationalities, ethnicities and races. She was truly a woman of the people - adored, loved and respected for her passionate defense of the marginalized, and for her "courage, tenacity, loyalty and hunger for justice," as Camilia Odeh texted to me today when she heard the news.

This hunger for justice reminds me of two of my favorite Ora Schub stories. She had been the Chicago chapter president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) at one point, and had helped organize - with the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) - a number of human and legal rights delegations to other countries. One of the trips was either in 1990 or ‘91, when the Kuwaiti government was extra-judicially expelling Palestinian residents from its state in the wake of Iraq's war with the Gulf country. (Kuwait was claiming that the Palestinians there were "5th columnists.") The NCBL and NLG tried to stop those deportations.

A number of years later, Stan Willis, venerable attorney and a leader of the NCBL, invited Ora to speak at its Chicago gathering. He knew that she represented the AAAN, so he wanted an Arab statement of solidarity with his organization. Ora didn't think that she'd be the best person to give the statement, so she asked me to join her and address the crowd. Together, we came up with the closing sentence of "Black liberation in the U.S. will lead to liberation for all," a political line that we still believe in and practice to this day.

As a close friend and ally to both the Black and Arab communities of Chicagoland and the U.S., Ora was one of the first mentors of mine to explain the importance of #BlackPalestinianSolidarity in our organizing work.

The second story was probably Ora's favorite. After Israel was forced to end its 18-year-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, the prominent Palestinian-American scholar and intellectual Edward Said hurled a rock towards Israel from the emancipated Lebanese side of the border, in what he called a "symbolic act."

A few years later, sometime after Said's death in 2003, Ora was on another human and legal rights delegation, this time in Lebanon, and found herself at almost the same spot as Said in 2000. There
she and the other delegates were photographed by Lebanese press hurling their own rocks at the border. She said she did it "in honor of Edward Said," and that newspaper picture remains framed on her office desk today. I've asked Cheryl Graves for a copy, and it will now adorn the wall next to my desk in honor of Ora.

The board, staff, and members of the AAAN are in mourning today. "She was an amazing activist, solid and committed, a person of all people, and above all funny," said Louise Cainkar, another original AAAN board member. "She made me laugh all the time. That's what I told her when I saw her last."

The AAAN offers its deepest condolences to Ora's family: siblings Zeva, Mo, and Drora Schub; nephews Isaiah Freeman-Schub and AJ Schub (Taylor); Karla Schub; Sharron Pitts; Leroy, Jordan, and Brittany Jemison; Cheryl Graves; Lou-Ellen Saidel; David Gordon; and Leslie Burns.

To Zeva, Sharron, and Cheryl, especially, we salute you for being so steadfast and kind, handling all the visitors and well-wishers with respect and love.

The AAAN will never be the same without Ora Schub. And I will miss my friend.

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