Update: this video is a finalist for Best Nonprofit Video of 2016, you can vote here.
At a time when the news is especially dark, filled with tragedy and hate and fear, it is good to be reminded that human kindness and decency can still be found—if you know where to look.
Take the story of Jalal and Kamal. The brothers were small children when their family fled Afghanistan. Their father was being targeted by the Taliban because of his service in the Afghan army, and the whole family was now in danger.
They fled, passing through many countries before finally landing in Russia, but found little welcome there. “People don’t like you if you say you’re Muslim,” Kemal recalls of their experience in Russia. “They beat me because...I don’t why.” He shrugs, unsure how to answer.
Aside from the discrimination and violence that they faced in Russia, in recent years the family lost the right to work or even go to school.
Fortunately, after undergoing the rigorous, multi-step security screening required for all refugees (including checks by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the National Counterterrorism Center), Jalal and Kemal were granted admittance to the United States as refugees and HIAS helped arrange their resettlement.
After 17 years without a permanent home, Jalal and Kamal were headed to California.
JFCS East Bay, HIAS’ resettlement partner in northern California, has been helping the brothers to find their footing. In addition to meeting them at the airport to welcome them to their new country, they needed to find the boys housing—no easy task in the pricey real estate market of northern California.
But Amy Weiss, director of refugee and immigrant services at JFCS East Bay, had help from an unlikely place: San Damiano Friary, a Franciscan retreat center.
“We thought, we have 80 bedrooms. Maybe we could do something to help,” explains Brother Mike Minton, director of the retreat center.
The retreat has provided a truly welcoming home for Jalal and Kamal while they transition into their new lives in the United States, which for Kamal is not just a new country but “a new home.”
As Kamal says, with his trademark smile, “Muslims, Jewish Family [Services], Christians... its really amazing.”
It's a reassuring reminder that, rather than dividing us, religion can be a force that unites us. Despite the voices saying that the United States should no longer be a welcoming place for the tired and poor, the beaten and persecuted, the American tradition of welcome lives on.
Americans of all faiths are coming together in their local communities to make refugees feel welcome. We hope you’ll join them.
You can start by sharing this video. Post on facebook or twitter, or send an email to your loved ones with a quick note telling them to watch.
By sharing Kamal and Jalal’s inspiring story—including the compassionate efforts by people of all different faiths to welcome them and help them find their feet in their new country—you can help us spread a message of tolerance, compassion and welcome.
Watch the video above, get inspired and pass it on!