Most of us live in a bubble – the bubble of our friends, our family, our workplace and our community. Last night, I had the opportunity to go outside of my bubble and break bread with a group of recent Syrian refugees. As a member of the New York board of Rabbis, I was invited to participate in a friendship dinner through the US Fund for UNICEF. I was part of a small group of Jewish and Christian clergy who were there to welcome these immigrants to our country.
We started the evening by entering a room off to the side that had been turned into the children’s playroom, where a ping pong table, markers and large paper, puzzles and more were the center of entertainment for these children. There was a table filled with pizza and drinks, just like any American kids would enjoy. I quickly sat down on the floor to play with one of the children. He spoke no English, nor I Arabic, but we could definitely communicate. As a colleague noticed me playing on the floor with the little boy, and then shared this scene with the group, I realized that I could have gone home after that initial interaction and, Dayeinu, it would have been enough.
But the evening continued. If I tell you what a lovely and thoughtful conversation I had with two Syrian women, Hanan and Saba, sitting across from me at the dinner table, Dayeinu, that would be enough. If I tell you that the female minister sitting next to me and I used Google Translate so we could have a deep and meaningful conversation with these women, Dayeinu, that would be enough. If I tell you that these women have learned so much English in such a short period of time, and they admit it is the hardest part of being in America, Dayeinu, that would be enough. If I told you that the people of the US Fund for UNICEF were incredible in all of their planning for a perfectly celebratory dinner, Dayeinu, that would have been enough.
If I tell you that the children of these two women came over and politely introduced themselves to us with beautiful English, Dayeinu, that would have been enough. If I tell you that one of these women came not because life is so bad in Syria, but because her son needed medical attention for his eye, and he could only get it in our great United States of America, Dayeinu, that would have been enough. If I tell you that this same woman wants to stay in the United States not because life in Syria was so terrible for her, but because she wants something better for her children and her children’s children, Dayeinu, that would be enough. If I tell you that the sounds of the children playing in the room next door, some in Arabic and some in English, could be heard over all the sounds of the adults conversing over dinner, Dayeinu, that would have been enough.
So what do I take away from this experience? Our America is a great place for so many people of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, and we must continue to share our voices, listen to the stories and fight for what we know is right – a great America that welcomes all and promises a better tomorrow.
And I now have two new FaceBook friends, Hanan and Saba, and I can’t wait to watch them embrace all that this great nation has to offer.