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The JRC Community is sponsoring two refugee families this winter. Can you help us both meet their needs and sponsor a 3rd family? JRC member Fred Wellisch shares below how these new families are becoming a part of our community.

We were standing on the corner of Kedzie and Devon on a cold and windy December day waiting for the 155 when Zamari turned to me and said “Chicago – pizza!” We were on the way back to his family’s apartment in Rogers Park.  I had spent the morning helping him learn the bus route to and from the offices of the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago (ECAC) so that he and his wife Hanifa could attend daily ESL classes. “Absolutely,” I said, “Chicago is famous for pizza. You like pizza?” He nodded enthusiastically.  And since “pizza” is part of the universal language nothing more needed to be said.  Had we gotten into the subtleties of thin vs. deep dish or stuffed, we might have had to whip out our phones and consult Google Translate but the bus came just in time and we avoided going down that thorny culinary – and linguistic – road.

The Zahids are one of two Afghan families that 18 JRC members, organized by the Immigrant Justice Task Force, are helping to resettle under the auspices of ECAC.   There is Zamari, a former public prosecutor and law professor, his wife Hanifa, a schoolteacher, and their daughter Gulsom, age 3 and son Omar, 15 months. The Zahids spent three months in a tent on an army base in Texas and were resettled in Chicago in early December.  The other family is the Armizadas, which consists of three siblings and two children.  There is Jan, who worked in landscaping and vehicle sales, Freshta, who was a journalist for 17 years and wrote about urban issues, and Wahid, who also worked in landscaping and vehicle sales.  Wahid is the father of two children: Bahara, a four year-old girl and Abdullah, a three year-old boy.  Unfortunately, Wahid’s wife and their third child, a baby, were unable to get out of Kabul in the final days of the airlift.

Edie Canter and I are leading the Zahid team; Sheri Young and Michelle Adelstein, the Armizadas.  But everyone on both teams is doing amazing work: devoting time, energy and resources to making these recent refugee families become acquainted with and welcome in Chicago.  We have donated, bought or solicited fellow JRC members for food, clothes, shoes, cell phones and household items such as cooking utensils, furniture and rugs.  We have installed child safety locks and set up medical and dental appointments. We have provided funding for dental work and begun enrolling children in pre-school. And we have helped the Zahids and Armizadas navigate public transportation so that they can get to ESL classes and introduced them to the wonders of our fair city, notably Lincoln Park Zoo and the Bean.

This work has been incredibly rewarding and JRC members, both on our teams and in the congregation at-large, have been generous and supportive.  But, as you can imagine, ECAC and the other resettlement agencies have been overwhelmed by the recent influx of Afghan refugees and are stretched to the breaking point.  Our two families need additional items and, perhaps even more critically, funds for medical services not covered by the meager one-time government payment extended to refugees.

Most importantly, because of the shining work done by our JRC teams, ECAC has asked if we could sponsor a third family.   To do that, however, we need a few of you to step up and take leadership positions. This is not as scary as it sounds.  In the few weeks that we have been doing this work, we have acquired quite a bit of knowledge, and can provide direction and a starting point for future leaders.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this work has been making new friends and sharing history, culture and customs with them.  Zamari turned 33 on Friday, January 7th and so Edie and I drove to the Zahids’ apartment to congratulate him.  We had even prepared a “happy birthday” sign in Farsi and English and picked up a birthday cake at Jewel. We learned that 2022 equates to the year 1400 in the Afghan calendar and that this difference stems from Muhammad’s hegira from Mecca to Medina in the year 622.  We also learned that Afghans celebrate their birthdays by having their favorite meals prepared for them and that Zamari’s favorite meal is chicken and rice. Had we known this in advance, we might have planned accordingly.  But alas this cultural knowledge came too late to be of use this year.  So what did we bring him instead?  You guessed it. Pizza! And Zamari looked very happy.

Please, JRCers, these families need our continuing help and support.  And there are other families waiting to be welcomed into this new and unfamiliar country.  So, if you are in a position to give or lead, to play a role in welcoming these strangers into our midst, as our tradition requires, please step up and contact Sheri Young at or 847-912-8920.