Today is March 29, 2023 ()
Background: In the Fall of 2021, our synagogue enthusiastically voted to help resettle Afghan refugees who had fled their country when the Taliban took control. Over seventy-five congregants immediately stepped up, volunteering to identify housing, collect furniture, furnishings and clothing, move furniture and set up the apartment, teach English, and much more. We launched our Welcome the Stranger Fund and within weeks raised enough money to support newcomers through their first year.
In mid-January, our congregation welcomed Reza, then age 23, and Rauf, then age 21, to their new apartment. With our assistance, Reza and Rauf have made remarkable progress in adjusting to life in the United States, from learning how to shop in our supermarkets, to using the T, learning and improving their English, learning to swim and drive, and navigating our health care system. They have both found jobs and continue to take job training classes to further their careers. They are also working diligently with a bro-bono attorney to prepare their asylum applications.
Through every week and every month, the Temple Aliyah community of volunteers has stayed with our “guys” and has supported them in myriad ways. Our newcomers have repeatedly expressed their thanks and gratitude, individually and collectively.
In March we held a twenty-first birthday party for Rauf and recently we came together to celebrate Reza’s twenty-fourth birthday. This was Reza’s first birthday celebration ever!
On the day of his party, Reza gave us this speech, which he gave us permission to share with the community:
Statement from Reza
Greetings to each one of you!
First of all, I want to thank you for organizing this event, especially Nurit, Peter, Grandma Nancy and Mom Aviva and I appreciate all the dear guests who came. I hope I deserve all your kindness. It finally happened. I mean, my first birthday party. From one point of view, this is true because I have been in the USA for exactly one year and it makes me proud to celebrate my first year in the USA by celebrating my first birthday.
Maybe most of you ask why this is my first birthday party? I want to explain this in a few lines: I have been through three seasons in my life so far. Each chapter is a long story, but I will briefly mention it here. The first chapter, which covers my childhood, was with my family. We had a simple life. My father was a farmer, and my mother was a housewife. I have never seen anyone having a birthday party in our village. I don’t know exactly why, but maybe it was because most of them didn’t know how to celebrate or it was because most of them forgot the day and month of their birthday. Only for the first time when a child was born, the neighbors gathered and celebrated for 3 days and nights. I went to school every day and when I came home, sometimes I worked with my father in farming and sometimes with my mother in housework. At home, I mostly washed dishes and swept the house. I did not cook.
The second season, which includes my university years, I went alone to another city in Afghanistan. It was a two day drive by bus. Everything was new to me there. Because I had just come from the village to the city and started city life for the first time. In Afghanistan, city life and rural life are very different. Anyway, days passed, and I lived in a four-person room as we were still studying. I never cooked there, although sometimes I cooked eggs. Over there, my friends and I, who all came from distant villages, did not even think of celebrating each other’s birthdays. Although we knew that people celebrate birthdays in the city. Maybe it was because we were all in school and didn’t have enough money to celebrate a birthday, but it’s not believable because we could have celebrated it even with a small cake. Anyway, I don’t know why we didn’t do this. Even when I started working at the publishing house and worked there for three years, no one had a birthday party. I had seen The Walking Dead series on TV, but with the fall of Afghanistan, I also experienced it in reality. That’s why I was very lucky that with the fall of Afghanistan, I reached the US military and they saved me from the Taliban, whom we called “cannibalistic savages.” I was able to enter Kabul airport with only what I was wearing and my passport. From there to the USA, which took almost a week, I wore the same clothes. I had nothing else; I lost all my things in Kabul. I didn’t even have a cell phone with me – which is one of the necessities of every person today, because when I wanted to enter the airport, the Taliban broke it.
The third chapter of my life started from the day I entered the USA. It was August 25, 2021. I entered a new world. A world full of opportunities. A world that every young person outside of the USA dreams of seeing. I spent the first five months in a military camp in the state of Wisconsin. After all the conflicts and fear I suffered, it was a good opportunity to rest. I made my first phone call to my family after a month. Of course, at the time of leaving Afghanistan, I had informed my mother that I was leaving. I contacted my Mom by phone of one of the passengers. My Mom told me with tears in her eyes, I pray that you will arrive safely and call me when you arrive. Although I can’t see you, at least I can hear your voice. She also mentioned that “I have to study my lessons well”. I am sorry that she is not with me today and cannot watch this beautiful celebration. But I am sure that she will be proud of me.
Finally, from the day I entered the state of Massachusetts, I thought to myself that I should live here most of my life. The first night when I was in the hotel, I was thinking that I hope to find good friends. I hope I can find a job. I hope I can continue my studies. The day when Hamed brought us from the hotel to our house, I remember exactly that we met Mom Aviva and Grandma Judy Sacks. I didn’t know that they would continue helping us. I thought they would be with us for a week or two and then we would have to continue alone. But luckily, today I am very happy to have all of you by my side. You are very dear to me. I will never forget the happiness you gave me. I feel like I was born again in a family like yours and this is my one year birthday party. I’m so thankful to the best teachers like Nurit, Ellen, Lynn and Fran. Because they taught me to read and write and made it so I could read this letter in front of you today. Of course, I should not forget that in addition to you, who are my family, I also have many friends by my side. Rauf is like my little brother. I love him. I have many other friends like Muhammad, Abdullah, Rohi, Asef and … Finally, I would like to mention that I have many plans that I have to do. I must attend many classes. I have to acquire many skills. Thank you very much for being with me. Always be happy and healthy! With respect!
Reza and Rauf Speak at Pollard Middle School.
In October Reza and Rauf were invited to join a panel of refugees sharing their experiences of fleeing from their countries and settling in the United States. Their stories are moving – and treacherous. Click below to hear their talk.
This is important information for anyone from Temple Aliyah working on this Project or with Afghan refugees in any context:
Because of the very real danger some Afghan refugees may find themselves in from the Taliban or other parties in the USA or still in Afghanistan, do not disclose any identifying information about the refugees: names (first or last), addresses (including the location of the apartment we have found for them!), ages, group relationships, and especially photographs!
Some people will mistakenly think that posting photos or personal details of the refugees will help with fundraising – this is dangerous not only to the refugees themselves but to the safety of their family members who are still in Afghanistan!
For questions or more information about the project contact:
There are many resources online about the current state of Afghanistan, the refugee crisis, Afghan culture, and history. Below are some we recommend. Keep checking back as we will be adding more resources.
Cultural Orientation Resource Exchange | Working with Afghans: Afghan Backgrounder
Switchboard: A Roundup of Resources Serving Afghan Refugees
Cultural Atlas: Afghan Culture and Religion
The Taliban Confront the Realities of Power (New Yorker)
Afghanistan has Become the World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis (New Yorker)
The Secret History of the US Diplomatic Failure in Afghanistan (New Yorker)
Opinion | Would you Sponsor an Afghan Refugee? (NY Times)
International Institute of New England (IINE) Afghan Cultural Orientation Webinar (video)