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Am Shalom welcomed refugees before travel ban

Am Shalom greeted a Syrian Refugee family and helped them acclimate

Daniel Kogan

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On Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.

The order placed a ban on people from 7 majority-Muslim countries to keep them from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The barred countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria.

Also, on Jan. 27, members of Am Shalom Congregation in Glencoe took in a Syrian refugee family before Trump signed his executive order, halting all non-citizen travel from seven Middle Eastern nations.

A few of the congregants anxiously awaited the new family outside O’Hare Airport even as they  feared that the family would not be able to get through security.

“Welcome to Chicago. Hope you make yourselves at home!” was written on a sign held up by a boy and his mother.

The volunteers knew almost nothing about the Syrian family they were welcoming into their community, but could empathize with and understand their struggle.

Many congregants committed themselves to helping the new family assimilate into American society.

In Hebrew, “Am Shalom” translates to “People of Peace,” a term which seems to accurately describe the temple.

The religious organization has stayed away from politics, but with the timing of Trump’s new executive order and the arrival of the new refugees, the temple has found itself caught up in a political firestorm. 

“The Statue of Liberty has always been our symbol of welcome, It feels like Trump turned off the light,” Rabbi Steven Lowenstein said.

More than a hundred people, both in and outside of Am Shalom, assisted the new Syrian family.

“Yesterday a man called and said he’d give a free eye exam to any of the family members in need, another man said he’d give them free dental work. It’s amazing to see so many generous people genuinely trying to help this underprivileged family that has lived such a harsh life,” Matthew Altman, a clergy member, said.

Once the Syrian family finally passed customs, members of Am Shalom offered them gifts.

The family declined a request for an interview, and were terrified when approached for questioning by a New York Times reporter. They were in the land of the free, but they did not feel free to say what they desired.

As the welcoming ceremony died down, the crowd started to disperse from the terminal.

“Congregants were deeply appreciative that the family had made their way safely to America from their war stricken homeland.

“If this is the last group of refugees to get in, we will show them the best of America,” he said.

The family was driven to their new home, where they would enjoy a meal consisting of Syrian style semolina cake and other mediterranean food.

The couple stated that they had not looked at any news sources since landing in the United States, and no one told them the news that had happened before they entered their new home.

Am Shalom, with the help of the resettlement organization, RefugeeOne, was expecting another Syrian family to come two days later.

“That’s not happening,” Kim Snoddy of RefugeeOne said.  At the time this article was written, the family had still not yet entered the country.

On Feb. 6, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the executive order ruling the travel ban unconstitutional. The refugee family and many others from these countries can, again, enter the country.

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Am Shalom welcomed refugees before travel ban