What About The American Refugee Down The Block?

06/30/2017 02:37 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2017

If you have a beating heart, the images of families floating across the Mediterranean, hoping to survive, is sure to make you cry. It’s gut-wrenching to know that in the era of FaceTime, Instagram and Twitter, humanity is still capable of sitting on the sidelines, as so many children are slaughtered, maimed and exiled from their homes. Dictatorial tyrants are destroying the landscape of the Middle East as many Arab nations refuse to intervene and welcome-in their neighboring brothers and sisters.

I have no doubt that my fellow Americans, suffering mostly with first world dilemmas, are truly bothered when seeing horrific images of starving African children. We are concerned by the condition of woman in Saudi Arabia and we are horrified by self-immolating monks in Tibet, but today I ask the verboten question: What about the “refugee” down the block? What about your child’s classmate who’s too hungry to do their homework? What about the child in Bozeman, Montana who has never had a well visit with a pediatrician, a dentist check up and doesn’t know if their drunk “parent” is going to wake up in time to serve them breakfast?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Refugee as “one that flees; especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution” but shouldn’t the definition be broadened to someone “seeking refuge”, period? According to US government statistics, on an average day in the United States, over 100,000 foster care children are yearning to be adopted, is this not a refugee crisis within our own borders?

As an adoptive father of four, I am keenly aware, how challenging it may be to meet the needs of these children. In fact, I don’t expect every American to foster or adopt children, but shouldn’t the “Welcome refugees” sign be held high not only at our nation’s airports but in our local communities as well? Wouldn’t it be noble and merciful if we were to hold up signs saying, “Welcome Johnny from down the block” or “no one chooses to be a refugee, including Maya from Butte, America”?

In August of last year, a lovely 12-year-old girl, Courtney, joined our Camp Gan Israel Jewish summer camp in Bozeman. Her mom died tragically when little Courtney was 5 years old and her dad, who loved her a lot, didn’t raise her with the stability that each precious child deserves. With the encouragement of her beloved grammie, she spent two weeks in our home and loved her time here. Upon returning home to Wyoming, she was unhappy and the question arose: Should we take her in as our own?

Our family with grandma Sheila and Judge Rienne McElyea at Shoshana’s adoption
Our family with grandma Sheila and Judge Rienne McElyea at Shoshana’s adoption

Chavie and I had adopted three babies before Courtney, but a pre-teen? Unlike babies, they come with a long history of “baggage” that affects their every day, their every thought, their every emotion. Courtney was placed by G-d at our doorstep and we needed to answer G-d’s call. I know G-d would’ve understood, if we would’ve said “sorry, we just can’t. We aren’t cut out for this”, but, how could we?

We said yes.

On Thursday September 1, 2016, Courtney AKA Shoshana (which means Rose in Hebrew), joined our family and just last week her adoption was finalized. She’s an amazing, talented, smart and fun young woman and she will undoubtedly grow to boundless heights. Does that mean she’s always easy? Not in the slightest! Are any girls her age easy? Does she have a lot to repair internally? She’d be the first to say so! But does she have a glowing soul that is in love with Judaism and is she a remarkable older sister to Chaya, Zeesy and Menny? You bet!

I know that, like our Shoshana, there are so many gem-like souls out there who need a loving, nurturing and non-abusive home. They don’t always scream for help, because so often they are certain that no one is listening. May G-d bless all the Courtney’s of the United States to find parents who view them as the Shoshana’s that they are!

Don’t ever give up!

Dinner at Hapisgah Steak House in Queens, New York
Dinner at Hapisgah Steak House in Queens, New York
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