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This past Saturday, refugees from Arabic-speaking countries shared a Thanksgiving meal in Worcester. About 100 refugees gathered at the Hibernian Cultural Centre, speaking a shared language and eating familiar food as their children ran between the tables, playing hide and seek.
It was an opportunity for people with similar histories, who may not have family in the U.S., to reflect on what they've lost and what they've gained and how they feel.
Fawza Aljamous is from Syria. She came to America four years ago.
"To escape the civil war," Aljamous said, through interpreter Tony Kebbeh. "The destruction. The killing."
On this Thanksgiving, she's thinking about the relatives who are still facing harm in Syria.
"Some are paralyzed, some are being bombarded," Aljamous said. "Some are not doing well."
Today, she said she's thankful for a country that has accepted her with open arms.
"I thank every single American, because they opened their doors to the Muslims, to receive them, to provide to them, to give them what they need," she said.
One thing these refugees need is a sense of community, said Nizar Fares, who helped to organize the event.
"They need to feel like there is a network of people that speak their language, that comes from the same background, same ethnicities, same countries," he said. "They live the same circumstances."
Fares, who came to the U.S. from Lebanon six years ago, stressed the refugees who come to share this Thanksgiving aren't all Muslim. He's not. Fares is a notable gospel singer in the Middle East.
"I thank every single American, because they opened their doors to the Muslims, to receive them, to provide to them, to give them what they need."Fawza Aljamous
The food was prepared by chef Emad Ghobrial.
"We're doing salads, chicken breast, rice and toasted vegetables," he said, gesturing to the spread he spent hours preparing.
There was also pizza for the kids, and dessert for everyone.
For Ghobrial, cooking this meal was a way to give back. He remembers the people who helped him when he came to America from Egypt 20 years ago.
"A lot of people, I never knew them, they helped me," he said. "So we just try to thank God for what he's done with us all these years. And we just try to put those new people — their first step here in the right direction."
While the adults finished eating, kids ran around and played. One of them was 10 year-old Toka Alasmi, Aljamous' grandaughter.
Her goal for the day was simple.
"To play with my friends," Alasmi said. She Didn't know what countries her friends were from. It wasn't a priority for her.
"[I'm thankful for] having fun with my family," Alasmi said.
Her grandmother interjected in Arabic.
"[She said] 'tell him America is good,' " she said.
After the meal, the children danced and sang along to "Allahu Yahtammu Bina," a song written by Nizar Fares. The lyrics are "God is taking care of us, so we can take care of others."
This segment aired on November 28, 2019.
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