Temple Beth El of South Orange County- Jewish Justice Advocates recently hosted a powerful night of conversation with Mohammed Al Samawi and Emily Primack. Mohammed Al Samawi is the award-winning author of “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America.” Emily Primack is the Major Gift Officer, Western Region for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS (a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3)refugee protection organization.
The temple encouraged attendees to bring an item to donate for Border Angels to deliver to refugees in need including: diapers & pull-ups; toothpaste & toothbrushes; reusable water bottles; body soap & body wipes; arts & craft supplies; and dried pasta, beans & rice. The evening was full of friendly faces and warm hearts as the community gathered to try and help the less fortunate and people fleeing dangerous situations in their homeland. For more information on how you can help as well please visit www.borderangels.org.
Emily Primack reminded us that as Jews we should say Hineni and welcome the stranger and promote interfaith cooperation and peace. She also informed the warm-hearted audience of all the important work that HIAS is doing to help refugees every day and how you can help yourself. No effort is too small to help those that are in need and HIAS has a long history of helping those in the most dire of situations.
Founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, HIAS has touched the life of nearly every Jewish family in America and now welcomes all who flee persecution. Today they offer services that save lives every day including—but limited to-—resettlement services, pro-bono legal assistance and psycho-social care. For more information on how you can help and get involved and many different levels please visit www.hias.org.
The guest speaker Mohammed Al Samawi transfixed the audience with the recounting of his extraordinary journey that brought him from war-torn Yemen to the Orange County, California. And, it all circles back to Facebook… sounds crazy, yes. But, Mohammed’s story shows us the best parts of social media and how it can be used for acts of bravery and kindness.
Mohammed was born in 1986 in Yemen. In his mid-twenties, he became involved in interfaith groups promoting dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews. This was inspired by a powerful encounter he had with a friend named “Luke.” Luke was a Christian teacher that was living in Yemen, which is was, and still is, very rare. Luke and Mohammed became good friends and when Luke was ready to leave Yemen, Mohammed decided to give him the most wonderful gift that he could think of… a copy of the Quran.
Luke accepted the gift under one condition. Mohammed had to read the Bible in return. Mohammed agreed and off the two friends went on their respective spiritual journeys. It was only part-way through the Old Testament that his friend jokingly informed him that he was actually reading the Torah. Mohammed was amazed and continued on… now he would learn about Judaism too.
In his interfaith studies, Mohammed searched for people that could help him on his journey. He did what so many of us do… he turned to social media. After a few hits and misses, he managed to meet many new friends and build-up a great network of resources. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen. It was this network of internet friends that would leap from the ethos of our broadband networks and literally save his life one day.
Because, sadly, as Mohammed continued his work in Yemen to build bridges between different faiths, scrutiny began to increase. First came the death threats: on Facebook; then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.
Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces—rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.
Mohammed didn’t just regale the Temple Beth El audience with this harrowing tale of fate, kindness and a whole lot of luck… he also turned it into a best-selling auto-biography, “The Fox Hunt: A Refugees Memoir of Coming to America.” The book is a 2019 Nautilus Book Award winner and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards. The success of the book caught the eye of Hollywood as well. The book is being developed into a motion picture by Fox 2000, “La La Land” producer Marc Platt and Josh Singer, who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for “Spotlight.”
Based on the audience reaction that evening, Mohammed’s remarkable story itself and the talent attached to this new project the movie is sure to be a hit. However, Mohammed’s work is far from finished. He continues to do public speaking events to tell his story and reach new audiences. And, his organization Abrahamic House with a mission statement that, “remains committed to the exchange of core values that define our religious traditions and hopes to advance this work through his interfaith organization the Abrahamic House to build sustainable interfaith learning and action across Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in order to foster an environment of learning, respect, and social change.” To learn more about Abrahamic House please visit www.abrahamichouse.org. We wish him all the luck in the world on this journey.
Please continue to donate needed items for immigrants and refugees to Border Angels by bringing them to the Temple Beth El’s donation drop-off. For more information please visit https://tbesoc.org/jewish-justice-advocates-jja/.
Jewish Justice Advocates (“JJA”) is a TBESOC committee striving to advance social justice in accordance with Jewish values and positions of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), Reform ‘s Religious Action Committee (RAC), United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).”