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Nearly five years ago, Afghan refugees Reshad and Zulfar Ahmadi and their two children fled their native Kabul and found refuge in White Plains, with the support of the Jewish Community Center of Harrison (JCCH)’s Resettlement Committee.
On March 5, the Admadis’ shared the story of their family’s escape from Afghanistan at a special service at JCCH, joining hundreds of congregations and organizations around the world participating in Refugee Shabbat 2022, a HIAS initiative. JCCH Education Director Ronit Razinovsky also shared the story of her journey from Israel to the United States.
“We are very excited to be a part of Refugee Shabbat, and we are particularly proud of our community’s work helping the Ahmadis settle in the United States,” JCCH Executive Director Eric Nussbaum said of the special service. “The Jewish story is so closely linked to the immigrant experience. Helping the stranger in our midst is foundational to the Jewish people.”
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine — which has led more than one million Ukrainians to flee the country already — at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Senior Rabbinic Intern Steve Axinn underscored the importance of supporting all refugees seeking safety.
“We cannot be indifferent to the plight of people who are fleeing from bombs and bullets, gangs and violence or grinding poverty all around them,” Axinn said. “These people are only seeking peace, what you and I already have in abundance.”
Axinn highlighted that JCCH is working hard to support refugees who are fleeing violence in their homelands, as they did for the Ahmadis, and urged members of the community to do the same.
“We have a job to do. We must support them,” Axinn continued. “I beg you to be leaders who show compassion in our larger community.”
While the Ahmadis were still living in Afghanistan, Reshad — who worked as a quality control engineer for a U.S. military contractor — began receiving threats from local insurgents through text messages and phone calls.
“If you want to live, [they said] you have to stop working for infidels or invaders, which they call the U.S. Army,” Reshad said, recounting the threats he received.
Reshad ignored the threats initially, but they soon became even more serious against his family.
One day, while driving home from work, Reshad was stopped by another car and found himself being attacked by four armed, masked men.
“They broke the windshield, grabbed me, dragged me out of the car and started beating me without any provocations,” Reshad said. “I found myself begging for my life in that moment.”
“They took everything from me — my car, my personal belongings, laptop, everything and said, ‘Today we are leaving you. If you continue to this, you will see what is the real consequence,’” Reshad said.
That night, Reshad and Zulfar made the difficult decision that they needed to leave Afghanistan for their family’s safety and children’s future. After being granted Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status, the Ahmadis each packed a suitcase and left the country within a few days.
“It’s not easy for a refugee to leave everything behind: your homeland, your friends, your family,” Zulfar said. “It was really hard for all of us to make that decision.”
Once the Ahmadis arrived in the U.S., Reshad contacted HIAS and was connected with a group of volunteers who were working to resettle and welcome immigrants in Westchester County, specifically Harrison and White Plains.
In August 2017, they moved to White Plains into a fully furnished apartment and began the next chapter of their lives, with the support of the JCCH Resettlement Committee.
“Every detail was taken care of and we felt blessed to know there are still good-hearted people that are kind enough to feel the pain that an immigrant and refugee is going through,” Reshad said. “We are so grateful that everyone from this community stood up and made that decision to support our family.”
Currently, JCCH’s Resettlement Committee is working with HIAS again to help resettle nine of the Ahmadis’ relatives in White Plains, who have been living in a refugee center in the United Arab Emirates since fleeing Afghanistan in October. Members of the Community Synagogue of Rye have joined the effort.
Zulfar said her heart bleeds for the people of Afghanistan, especially girls and women, whose rights and independence have been stripped away by the Taliban.
“My story is going to be repeated,” Zulfar said, highlighting that the Afghans who are able to get out are the luckiest ones.
A GoFundMe has been set up for donations to help support the resettlement of the Ahmadis’ relatives who span three generations. All are expected to arrive in the U.S. soon.
Bailey has journalism experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties and New York City on topics related to LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, climate change, the environment, and local politics. They have been a full-time reporter with Examiner Media since July 2021. Read more details from Bailey’s bio here. Read Bailey’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/baileyhosfelt/