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If not us, who? If not now, when?

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JCUA teen summer program

This summer, around 20 teens participated in Or Tzedek, The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs’ teen summer program. Throughout the summer, teens learned about activism, advocacy, and community organizing through a Jewish framework, all while making new lifelong friends. Check out the blog below to see what the teens had to say about their memorable experiences in Or Tzedek. For teens that are interested in social justice, check out Or Tzedek & JUF TOV Teens Springboard School Break program, Mobilize Chicago (, as well as next summer’s Or Tzedek dates @

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” For the past 11 years, these words have brought together people of various faiths and ages to bear witness to the real experiences that happen outside of Chicago’s Deportation Center. Every Friday morning, people of diverse religions and denominations join together through the Broadview Vigil to pray for a change in our country’s immigration system. They pray for a justice system that brings peace and fairness to one of our society’s most vulnerable communities, the undocumented.


After the previous immersive day of learning about immigration reform and the experiences of America’s undocumented immigrants, it was empowering and surreal to see how others in this diverse community relate to the issue. The following day, at 7 a.m., we were greeted with open arms, smiles, and joy as we were given song sheets to participate in the service. We were instantly amazed by the inclusivity of the service, given that the songs were written in English, Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian, and Latin. Throughout the service various people led these prayers, making it feel like everyone’s voice should be heard.


One song that particularly spoke out to us was an adapted version of America, The Beautiful, by Miriam Therese Winter. Two specific lines that resonated with us were:

“America! America! God grant that we may be.

 A nation blessed, with none oppressed true land of liberty!

 How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea

 that dream of peace, nonviolence, all people living free.”

Singing these words in front of a building that so many are brought into to lose their liberty, freedom, and humanity was truly a surreal moment. Hearing all of our raspy, adolescent, and diverse voices come together as one was a one of a kind experience. It already felt emotional to discuss immigration in a workshop the day before, but it was a whole other experience for our groups of strangers to come together as one voice for this cause. In unison, we were able to express our vision of a just world.


The microphone was passed along to a young man named Francisco, who spoke of his experience being detained in that exact center. Luckily, he was released shortly before his wife gave birth to their first-born son. It was within this moment that we began to realize the effects immigration and deportations have on families. It was so powerful to see him come back to pray for others and thank this group for doing the same for him.


After singing and praying in English, Latin, and Spanish, we were able to offer a language that represents our faith: Hebrew.  We chose to share the words of Oseh Shalom in particular because of its message of spreading peace around the world. During our explanation of the prayer, we looked out and saw older folks look at us with such pride and genuine joy. Even though most of them had probably never heard a word of Hebrew before, we could see their enthusiastic attempts to join in with us.


These emotions were confirmed at the end of the vigil when a group of us had the opportunity to discuss this experience with one of the founders of the vigil. She expressed to us how important it is to see youth engaged in social justice work, and that youth truly are the future of social justice movements. She told us that some Fridays it might be really difficult to get out of bed early, but if they don’t come out and pray, who will? Even in the snow, the pouring rain, and other non-favorable weather conditions, people show up to pray. Another person told us that one snowy day, he expected only his family to arrive at the site, but was pleasantly surprised to see a large community huddled in the cold, praying as usual. There is never a Friday morning where these dedicated individuals don’t go out to pray for something that truly matters to them. Their dedication proved to us that if there is something you see wrong in the world, it is your duty to do something about it. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”