Syrian Refugees Welcomed by Jews

On January, 27, 2017, many congregants from Am Shalom synagogue in Glencoe, Illinois, crowded together at O’Hare International Airport, waiting to greet one of the last families of Syrian refugees to cross our borders. They arrived with nothing, from a war-torn country that we’d been watching on our 24-hour television news cycle: a canvas of faraway landscapes and lifestyles that were decimated.

At O’Hare, Rabbi Lowenstein gathered his congregants: “If this is the last group of refugees to get in, we will show them the best of America.”

Four months later, their relatives were allowed in, but the resettlement papers placed the Abdulqader family of four in Tennessee.

No way, Rabbi Lowenstein said. They come here. The two mothers are sisters. They stay together.

 

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Left to right: Laura Horn, Rokhash Abdulqader, Julie Stark Lowenstein, Alene Schaffner

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In the center, behind Rabbi Steven Lowenstein (seated), sisters Rokhash and Rokan are finally reunited after four years in Turkey

And so, Am Shalom welcomed a second refugee family, and settled the Abdulquders in an apartment near their relatives, the Khelos. A second wave of volunteers stepped up.

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Rokan Abdulqader (center) signs documents for an Illinois catering business, with  translator and Iraqi refugee Ahlam Mamood and lawyers Alyse Sagalchik (pictured on left) and Mary Harmon

What follows is a recent sermon from Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein delivered at the Shabbat service on June 8, 2018. That night, so many volunteers honored had contributed their skills, talents, and time to bring two very tired Syrian refugee families into our Am Shalom community.

“The volunteers honored tonight,” the rabbi told the congregation, “continue to prove every day, that single acts of kindness can change the entire trajectory of a life.” Volunteers had given them the warmest possible welcome inside a country whose president no longer wanted them.

Below, he shares his sermon as a Guest Post.

An executive order signed January 27, 2017, by President Donald Trump, suspended refugee admissions for 120 days while security procedures were being reviewed. The resettlement of persecuted religious minorities may continue during this time on a case-by-case basis.

Never did we ever think that our congregation would be at the forefront of the refugee crisis when our Khelo family was the last family to arrive in the United States at 2:30p.m. on January 27th. The travel ban had been put in place by the time they arrived at their new home in Skokie.

We as a congregation came out to the airport to welcome this family, with signs, balloons, and a bear to hug for all, to ensure that these families knew there were open arms in America.

We are still welcoming them as we brought their sister and her family in three days before Passover: We welcomed Rokhash and Aziz, Lamis and Yousef; and next, Rokan and Abdul Rachman, Maryam and Hussein.

Tonight, this year’s Jim Goodman Volunteer of the Year Award recipients are all of our volunteers who made all of this possible. The Steering Committee planned for their arrival, raising $8,000 for each family, connecting with Refugee One [a local resettlement agency], figuring out what you need when you have NOTHING, don’t speak or read the language, and have never seen a bank, a dentist, or been online for anything!

They created a home through the efforts of Glencoe Exchange:  furniture, bedding, an entire kitchen; groceries for a week and toiletries. Also donated were clothes for women, men and children, summer, winter, everything, books, games, and a stuffed animal on each of the children’s beds.

They made a welcome home. They cooked meals, Syrian comfort food, fresh veggies, sweets and fruit. They planned schedules, daily visits, doctors, teacher conferences, camp, public transportation.

They came to visit, again and again to teach, support, guide, and practice English or help with homework four days a week from 4-6 p.m. for 260 days.  And they are still coming…now with just a call to say…I’m coming over…I’m still here.

They opened doors. Job seeking at restaurants, factories, university buildings, gardens, hotels, and hospitals.  We are assisting the two sisters in starting a catering business.

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Catering for Retirement Party for Glencoe Roast Coffee, Writers Theatre

They were steady hands and hearts during moments of fear, health scares, and family still in Syria in grave danger. Our tutors and mentors brought imagination, storytelling, reading, art, music, games, sports, festivals, and even an introduction to Chuck E Cheese.

So tonight, we celebrate Esther Kusy-Leavitt, the head of our tutors, Julie Stark Lowenstein, the head of our mentors, and the amazing Laura Horn who devotes hours every single day beyond her work responsibilities to make sure our families truly know they are loved and welcome!

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