This is the first blog about two Syrian refugees, sisters in their 20’s, who came with their families to the Chicago area one year ago. Immigration would not have happened without my synagogue Am Shalom partnering with Refugee One, a local re-settlement agency, to bring them in and locate new homes. But finding jobs is another thing.
Although they can cook the foods from their homeland, in order to develop a catering business here and produce an income, they need to learn our health codes and pass the ServSafe test, the industry standard. That’s where I come in. They have serious cooking chops–but they don’t know that food must be kept six-inches off the floor. Ha, I didn’t either. But I’m not serving forty or fifty people.
The idea of a Syrian Supper Club has started to unfold: it’ll be a philanthropic feast where people can graze on a massive spread of the refugees’ home cooked Syrian dishes. Think monthly fundraiser. Probably more often. And yes, everyone is welcome here.
Translated, the Arabic writing below means “everyone is welcome here.” I didn’t write it. I tried my “skills” at calligraphy in a workshop at the Goodman Theatre, but Ahmad Abdulrazzac, the teacher, did a way better job handwriting than I ever could have.
Food can generate an entire revenue stream for a refugee. As our project takes off, maybe it’ll move out of the temple’s kitchen and pop up around the city in church kitchens or restaurants that are otherwise closed on Mondays or in someone’s backyard. Hopefully, they’ll get catering jobs and extended opportunities for work. That is the whole idea.
My inspiration came from refugee supper clubs in London, Los Angeles, Miami, and northern New Jersey; from a chance encounter at the 2017 Brooklyn Book Fair when I heard a brilliant award-winning Canadian international journalist Deborah Campbell speak about her book “A Disappearance in Damascus”; the act of Am Shalom welcoming these two families and the dozens of volunteers who stepped forward to ease their transition; and my feeling that Chicago’s culinary community would help.
“Everyone is Welcome Here”