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On the High Holidays each year, JRC invites congregants to share their personal reflections of the past year. This year, we were blessed with the chance to hear from Iman Amini, the “bonus son” of our congregation’s Frolichstein-Appel family, whose family in Afghanistan is in danger as the Taliban reclaimed their province. Please read Iman’s reflection below and, if you are able, consider supporting him and his family.

Hello JRC, and happy new year to you all. I am really happy to be here today and to celebrate the holidays with you as your Muslim friend.

My name is Iman Amini, and I am an international student from Kabul, Afghanistan. I am the oldest of three children and was born in Ghazni, one of the first provinces in Afghanistan to fall into the hands of Taliban before the collapse. My two siblings, a 17-year-old brother and a 13-year-old sister, are living in Kabul with my mom.  My father has been on a temporary work permit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since 2010 or 2011.  I came to the US in 2017 on a scholarship to Roycemore School, hoping to get an American education and to return with those skills to help my country.  After graduation in 2019, I worked as a counselor at Camp Havaya with some of your children, and then started my undergraduate work at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.  Currently, I am on a leave of absence from Warren Wilson and am spending this semester at the College of Lake County, in GraysLake, and I am living once again with the Frolichstein-Appel family in Evanston.

During my first year at Roycemore, as a high school junior, I lived with several different host families. The Frolichstein-Appels found me through a Facebook post shared by Rabbi Rachel on the Members of JRC Facebook page after Roycemore expanded its search for a family to host me for my senior year.  Tamar and Elliot, or as I call them Ima and Abba or aunt and uncle, opened their doors to host me for that year as their bonus son, and I have been welcomed as part of their family ever since.

Over my past four years in the US, I have not been back to Kabul to visit my family due to various obstacles related to costs, visa, COVID, and summer jobs.  This long separation has taken a toll on my mental health.  It didn’t help that I had a constant stream of friends and cousins in Afghanistan asking me my secret to get to America themselves.  I was hoping to visit my mom and siblings this last summer, and to help my brother with his applications to international schools, but things changed and the Afghan government collapsed.  Now, I may never be able to return safely to the land of my birth.  I will not be able to visit my family until we reunite somewhere outside of Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s extreme measures.  Since the collapse, which has been one of the most devastating and heart shattering events in my life, I haven’t been able to stop worrying about my family and close relatives. And as the eldest son, I am committed and expected to carry the responsibility of finding ways to evacuate my family from Kabul, even though I have very little control over the situation.  This change has compounded some of my depression and anxiety, but now, for my own safety, I know I have to remain focused on my studies to keep my own visa status current.

Over the last month, I have been focusing on the possibility of evacuating my family out of Afghanistan and out of the darkness and hopelessness that spread across the country after the takeover.  In the last few weeks, I have tried reaching out to anyone who might be able to help —  immigration lawyers, NGOs, and public officials — to advocate for my family and to seek a way to get them out of Afghanistan.  With the US military’s withdrawal and the end of its airlift from Afghanistan, it is now much more challenging for anyone to get out. I do have the support of a network of fellow Afghan students studying across the US, and we are connected through social media to one another and to some of our newly arrived peers.  None of us has a solution, even though all of our families face similar challenges.

Two decades ago, shortly before I was born, the Taliban led the people of my country into darkness, hopelessness, discrimination, racial, ethnic, and gender injustice. Today, I have very little hope that they have changed, and I believe they will return to their conservative and extreme policies toward the poor and deprived people of my country.  I have hoped for development, prosperity, independence and eventually for peace in my country all my life, but now it seems like I was just drawing a Picasso fantasy image in my brain. The current situation frightens me. My relatives in Afghanistan are not the only people who do not have any safe way to get out.  We never worked for any foreign organization, but we are all Hazaras, an ethnic minority, targeted in the past by systematic suicide bombings, violence, depravation and ethnic cleansing.  I know many other groups have the same fear, but my first worry is my own family.

Witnessing this tragedy and its impact on my family and the people of my country, I feel sorry, hopeless and heartbroken.  My hopes of bringing a US education home to help Afghanistan no longer amount to much.  In fact, thanks to the Taliban, now, I can not return and I can do very little to help my family or my country.

In terms of personal impact, the new Taliban-led government will be a very constraining regime to live under.  My mother will be deprived of the rights and better life she was given after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001.  My sister will no longer have the rights and freedoms she has enjoyed her whole life before the collapse.  My brother’s school, which is almost entirely Hazara, is closed, and it is unlikely he will have the same opportunity I had to win a scholarship to a foreign school to seek a better education.  The many friends and cousins who I could not give any magic secrets to, over the last few years have even less of a chance now than they did before.  If my father returns from his work in Saudi Arabia, he may not be able to find any work in Kabul, or even be sure of getting out again.  And as long as my family remains there, deprived of opportunities and basic human rights,  life will be impossible to bear. And they are relatively lucky, since they have me in the US.  Although there is little I can do to save them myself, thanks to the community here, I can call on a network of caring and compassionate Americans to try to help my Hazara family. Even if my ability to help them is limited, their relatives and neighbors in Kabul are not that lucky.

I hope the situation does not get even worse than it already is and that my family and the people of my country do not suffer further.  I hope I can focus enough to succeed in my studies, and that the many caring Americans who already have relationships with my fellow Afghans are successful in protecting the most vulnerable among us.

Please do not stop your support of Afghans in any way that you can. We need you and your voice to keep our voices from being silenced.

Thank you, and may we all enjoy a safe and sweet new year.

Iman’s fundraiser can be found here.