One of the best books I’ve read in the last several years is by my former colleague, Cornell University Professor Joseph Margulies. The book is called What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity (2013).

The book was an eye-opener for me. It traces our collective national response in the wake of our country’s largest scale domestic tragedy. What I learned—or perhaps what I was reminded—was that in the days, weeks, months and perhaps even years after 9/11, the creed of our country was strengthened. Our country’s immediate response was a rejection of racist ideology, xenophobia, and enhanced interrogation techniques (read: torture) in the name of national security. It was the embrace of religious freedom, pride in our diverse nation, and loyalty to our constitution. Our country’s political leaders widely accepted the idea that anything less than staunch adherence to these principles meant that the terrorists had won.

Our nation’s belief in these principles has wavered back and forth over the decade plus that followed. There is little doubt, however, that over the last year, the narrative in our country has taken on a tone quite different. This has saddened me more than anything else over the last year. The conversations we are having–what we are even debating—is very different than our nation’s conversations in the immediate wake of true national tragedy.

What gives me hope and inspiration, however, is our Oak Park Temple community.

On Monday, December 5, 2016, in partnership with RefugeeOne, Oak Park Temple will be welcoming and sponsoring a family of Syrian refugees to the United States. This Arab Sunni Muslim family of six includes a father (36), mother (30), three daughters (11, 6, 5) and a son (8). The family’s eldest daughter has cerebral palsy, mental retardation and significant special needs. The mother and some of the children speak a bit of English, but their native language is Arabic.

What does it mean to sponsor a refugee family? It means our OPT community has taken on the responsibility of welcoming this new family to our Chicago and American community.

I can’t even begin to imagine the fear and trepidation they must be feeling. It is our job to help make this difficult transition for this family as smooth as possible.

What can you do for this family?

Sign up to be a Mentor!
The family does not just need things—they need a community. Mentors commit to spending time and developing a friendship with this family. To be a mentor, you must agree to visit and spend time with the family for two hours, twice a month. Minimum commitment must be for 6 months, and you must complete a training and online background check.

Contact Annika Rothbaum (Annika.rothbaum@gmail.com) for details.

Donate Necessities!
Our sponsored family will be coming with very little. They need all the necessities that every home needs.  Sign up here to help.

Tutor!
Our OPT teenage community (and adults, too) can help the children in this family as they try to navigate a new language and new school. Contact Annika (Annika.rothbaum@gmail.com) if you want to be a tutor. Once again, you must commit to tutoring twice a month for a minimum of 6 months!

Donate Money!
We have committed to raising $10,000 for the family. We are almost there. If you have extra to share, please go to our RefugeeOne donation page.

Our sponsorship of this refugee family exemplifies everything I love about Oak Park Temple. At this point in our country’s history, I can’t imagine anything more important.

My family and I are both nervous and absolutely thrilled to take an active role in this important sponsorship! I know many others in the Social Action Committee and the OPT community at large share these emotions. Please consider getting involved in one of the ways above, especially as a mentor or tutor. Don’t be scared—the OPT community is here to help!

**I will be blogging periodically about this experience throughout the sponsorship. If you wanto to get involved or have something to say, please consider writing a guest blog post. Contact me at joshuatepfer@gmail.com if you are interested.

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