From February 14, 2016 (Valentine's Day, of course) to March 8, 2016, 12 students reached across the Atlantic to meet each other and join together in an effort to learn about the refugee crisis. Six students from here went first, all tenth graders. We stayed with families in Heidelberg (the center of refugee resettlement for southern Germany), and attended the Elisabeth-von-Thadden Schule. Von Thadden founded a school for girls in the 1920s, and then refused to be moved by Nazi propaganda and coercion, continuing to teach Jewish students and support their families, and continuing to employ Jewish faculty until 1944. She was then arrested and after nine months in Ravensbruck, was executed in 1945. The school was rededicated in her name, to humanitarian principles. In 1950, they opened a semester-long exchange with Israel.
In addition to sight-seeing in a fabulously beautiful historic region, we visited the main synagogue and mosque in the area, as well as a labor camp museum. On perhaps our most uplifting day, we met the woman who organizes the humanitarian aid for Patrick Henry Village, a vacated US Army post now used as the refugee resettlement center, and we met Abdullah. Abdullah and his family (he has three younger siblings) fled ISIS in Mosul, and walked all the way from Greece to Germany. He was admitted into the Thadden Schule in November, where he has become part of the student body. Until he met with us, Abdullah had been unable to tell his story.
We returned on February 24, and our new German friends followed three days after. We visited Ellis Island and Chinatown, as well as Harlem and Bay Ridge. In Harlem, we got a personal tour from jazz great Phil Young, and visited the Harlem Hilton firehouse. In Bay Ridge, we enjoyed visiting an Islamic neighborhood and mosque, and shared some quiet moments with a Palestinian refugee who is also the Lutheran pastor of the first Arabic Lutheran church in the US. Pastor Khader assists the Arab-American Association in its refugee resettlement efforts, and is a mainstay of the Islamic community as well. A visit with two Holocaust survivors who told their refugee stories, and a special screening of the new film Salam Neighbor, about a month spent in a UNHCR refugee camp in Jordan (which is the largest city in Jordan now).
Buried by the unyielding demands of intense high schools on both sides, these students might have been moved but unwilling to take on more. Yet, they decided that they had to act. They have created a bi-continental club, "Students for Refugees." They chose to create a website, to help raise awareness and help other students in their schools and further afield to learn about how they can help. They gave themselves assignments relevant to creating the website, and will have their first skype meetup event on April 8.