Last year, while volunteering on MASA Israel Journey—Israel experiential programs sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago—in South Tel Aviv, I met an extraordinary friend named Guy. I volunteered with the African refugee community at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), a non-profit that helps refugees reach basic social services in Israel. Guy translated for me while I interviewed refugees for their visa applications and *UNHCR resettlement.
Guy is a young man from Darfur who lost his family in the genocide and fled to Israel. Each day, Guy told me his dream was to move to the United States and study at a college. Guy achieved his dream and in December he flew to the US on a student visa. This did not come easily, however. He worked hard and had the courage to ask for help from his friends around the world.
Guy recently started school at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, through a program at their Center for International Education. I’m sponsoring Guy in Chicago along with a Maya Paley, director of Community Engagement and Special Programs at the National Council of Jewish Women.
Most people ask me about my motivations in helping Guy since I’m young, removed from what’s happening in Israel, and living in Chicago. To be honest, I never saw it as an option to NOT help him. He may come from a completely different background than me—Sudanese, Christian, poor, and traumatized—but he became a very close friend who needed my support.
Guy arrived in the middle of winter with only warm-weather clothes. So, what was my response? Take action. I immediately contacted friends and family across the country to help me with clothing donations. I helped him get acclimated to Chicago (Guy’s first El ride was a loud and crowded experience) and helped him get situated financially.
My Jewish upbringing has given me the moral foundation for sponsoring Guy. Thanks to my parents, who’ve instilled in me the importance of gemilut chasadim, or acts of loving kindness, I’ve always had a passion for helping others. I grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in Milwaukee. My dad is Israeli so we always had Israeli family and friends stay at our home for long periods of time. I grew up sharing everything with my siblings, and we all leaned on each other for help. Throughout high school and college, I participated in B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) and the UW-Madison Hillel respectively, which both focus on Jewish leadership, community service and tikkun olam.
After volunteering in Israel with the African refugee community, I settled in Chicago and found a job in the best place for Jewish communal work and charitable giving—the Jewish United Fund. I also spend my Sunday mornings teaching religious school to senior kindergarteners at Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue.
These experiences and positions have grounded my Jewish identity and me. I believe in tzedakah, doing the right thing, giving back, and helping those who are struggling.
Guy came to my doorstep in January and I have not given up trying to help him. The Jewish community I’ve created for myself throughout the years, filled with family, friends and colleagues, have given me the strength and courage to help Guy. He is an amazing person—forthcoming, inspiring and gentle. He speaks highly of Israel—despite the hardships for the African refugee community—and the safety he found there. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility in sponsoring Guy, but I remind myself that I’m doing the right thing by helping this remarkable person.
Like some of my family who survived the Holocaust, Guy is a survivor of the Darfur genocide and I’m grateful to have him in my life.
For more information on Guy’s story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Masa Israel Journey is a joint project of the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel and its partners, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod-UJA.
*UNHCR stands for The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Tamar Shertok is an associate in the Missions department of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.