Author Marnina with a group of NFTYites and the Mayor and Police Chief of Gurnee, who they lobbied for the adoption of smart gun technology.
This year, NFTY Chicago began a partnership with Bright Star Church, a predominately African American church from Bronzeville, on the south side of Chicago, which also engage their youth in social justice and gun violence prevention work. We planned on having a combined program at our spring event, Kolbo. I had the privilege of being on the planning committee along with four of my fellow NFTYites. This meant that one afternoon, a week before the event, we got to go down to the South Side of Chicago to hang out, eat pizza, and plan with a few of the teens from Bright Star.
Even though I live about ten miles from the south side of Chicago, it is not a place I have traveled to often. The news portrays the South Side as a place filled with gun violence and crime, something so different from my home in the Northern Suburbs. I was extremely nervous the whole way down, not because of the things I had heard about the South side, but of how the other teens would perceive us. I thought that their lives must be so different from ours. What could they get out of meeting with a group of Jewish teens? What was I supposed to be getting out of this? The closer we got to the meeting place, the more and more I thought about how this meeting would go.
After a two hour car ride, mostly stuck in traffic, we finally sat down at a long oval table in the back of an office building. There were ten teens all together and a few adults. We started our meeting by going around the table and saying why we were there. My fellow NFTYites and I all said that we felt so distant from the violence that was going on just miles from our home, and we want a more direct connection when it came to our work preventing gun violence. The Bright Star teens talked a lot about how they didn’t have any Jewish friends and they wanted to learn more about our traditions and customs. Growing up surrounded by a lot of Jews, I had no idea that there were people who wanted to learn about my culture. One of the teens even said, “Honestly, I didn’t realize you all were Jewish when you walked in.” I can only assume she was imagining girls in floor length black skirts and boys with talitot under their clothes. But it seemed so odd that they didn’t know anything about a culture and religion that I know so well. That’s when I realized the real purpose behind this partnership; it wasn’t to stop gun violence, but to show that even though we are all teens in different situations, we’re all just teens with so much in common.
The next week at Kolbo, I was so excited to head back down to the South side to see my new friends and introduce my NFTY friends to them. Most of the activities we planned were to showcase our similarities and get to know one another. Over the course of the afternoon, I got to watch as two different cultures came together as one. We talked about our favorite foods, movies, and music. We got to eat some delicious barbecue and dance to the same music. We bonded over the same pop culture references and things we all grew up with. There were some differences as well, mostly regarding the gun violence and discrimination that the Bright Star teens face, which my friends and I do not. These teens gave a face to the work NFTY has been doing to prevent gun violence and for me, a bigger reason to involve myself in this work. That is why, on June 2nd, I am wearing orange: for my friends, who see the effects of gun violence every day, and for the teens that I share a city and so much else with, I wear orange because we are #bettertogether.