THE BLOG
07/21/2016 10:33 am ET Updated Jul 22, 2017

Confessions Of A Refugee Anarchist

I'm now an anarchist aiding terrorists.

I am, at least in the eyes of many at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland including Donald Trump as well as more than 20 governors and many of their supporters.

This week I worked with other members of my community to host a refugee family of four fleeing from the violence in Syria. The family of four, a dad, mom and two children 8 and 9, arrived Wednesday from a refugee camp in Jordan.

The work to sponsor the family has taken months and has involved scores of volunteers eager to help. The local rabbi and his synagogue bought the bed and mattress for the master bedroom. A Muslim family shopped for the food that is now both stored on kitchen shelves and was served for the family's first meal. Others rented the van that picked up the family.

Not everyone is from a faith community, but we seem to have a wide range of backgrounds from Quakers to secular humanists.

Together, we have raised $10,000 by holding concerts and passing hats, found and rented a house, furnished it, and located volunteers to assist with an orientation that we expect will take at least six months. The government will pay most of the family's initial expenses but we are already finding addition costs that must be met. After all, the family has to learn English, the dad needs to find a job, the kids have to enroll in school and they all need thorough health examinations.

Why are we helping people who some of our top leaders fear may be terrorists?

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that we all find it hard to deny these victims of mass terror and war. The conflict in Syria has raged now for five years and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees reports that it has registered five million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes.

"I just can't imagine what it must be like for them, to have to leave their home, come here, and start all over," one man told me as we picked up furniture that had been selected for their new home.

Critics say terrorists can easily hide among the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the U.S. appears to be on track in bringing here this year. What surprised me was to learn about the extensive screening these families must undergo by officials from both the U.S. State Department and Homeland Security, including repeated interviews. That process, on average, takes 18 to 24 months, and sometimes longer.

We have all seen the photos of the dead children on the beaches of Europe or read about entire boatloads of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.

But until I undertook a mandatory training class I had not watched a video depicting by air the Zaatari refugee camp where 80,000 people are packed into three square miles of desert. Here, privacy is non-existent, sanitation is always questionable, medical care is scarce and despair is common.

"If you think that looks bad," said another volunteer during the training, "you need to realize that is only one camp. There are many more."

Not just for Syrian refugees either. Some Palestinian refugee camps were erected in the 1940s and are still operating.

Among the lessons we learned during the training is to refrain from asking the family about their ordeal since they have had to flee their homes. They are already traumatized, repeating the horror may bring it back.

No one wants that.

I may never even meet the family. But the last few days have been extraordinary as I have helped bring in furniture, build a bunk bed, and meet so many different people. There is now a welcome mat in the front mudroom, a homemade quilt on an easy chair in the living room, and a big white teddy bear on the bunk bed. It looks like a home.

When our little community group was formed, volunteers agreed that we were willing to assist with more than one family. Already we've begun talking about the next family and the one after that.

Someone has to do it. Even if some think that we are all anarchists aiding terrorists.