Shalom Between You and Me
There are children in my school from every conceivable part of the world. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am sitting in a school classroom rather than a United Nations meeting for junior members. When I met with my first graders this fall, more than half were newcomers to the United States.
Some of the children, like Miroko, are here temporarily because their fathers have been sent to the United States for business reasons. Miroko’s father, like many of the other Japanese and Chinese men here on a visa, is an engineer. Miroko attends Japanese school after American school several days a week, so that she will not forget her native tongue and customs while she is here. After a year or two, she will return to Japan. Her classmates do not like her to talk about leaving, for they have grown very fond of this lovely, gentle child.
Some of the other children, like Danny and his family, who are Russian Jews, have come to this country to find religious freedom. Others have come seeking freedom from terror, as is the case with many of the children whose families have come here from the Middle East.
Azure, from Iraq, tells about how his family moved to this country to get away from all the fighting and killing.* “All the time,” he says, putting his head over his ears, “there were machine guns. The noise, the noise…I can’t forget the noise.”
Larry, of Korean descent, but born in America, starts to laugh, thinking that Azure is just play-acting. But then Azure tells of how the soldiers killed two of his cousins and an uncle, and Larry stops laughing. Now, he believes, and listens solemnly.
“They just shot them down in the street,” says Azure. “My cousins were on their way to my grandmother’s house with my uncle.” One machine gun killed them all.”
Azure has been living in the United States for only a year. His father came here ahead of the family to find a job and a place to live. When this was accomplished and he sent for his wife and children, Azure’s 14-year-old brother did not want to leave Iraq. As frightened as he was by the war, he was even more frightened about the thought of terrorists blowing up the plane or taking him hostage. “My brother sat on the plane with his eyes and ears covered the whole time,” recalled Azure. “He couldn’t believe it when we landed at the airport in New York and we were still alive!”
Erat is from Israel. She could speak very little English when she came to this country. Looking her straight in the eyes the first time I met her, I said “Shalom.”
“What does shalom mean?” asked Miroko.
“It means hello and goodbye and peace in Hebrew,” explained Melissa, whose parents were born in Israel.
Erat, sitting next to Azure, turned to him and said, “Your country and mine. There is so much…so much…” Erat struggled to find the words to say what she meant. Finally, she said, “I cannot get the words.”
Melissa, accustomed to hearing Hebrew spoken more frequently than English at home, told Erat to tell her what she wanted to say in Hebrew, and then she would translate to the group.
Erat spoke rapidly, the look on her ce and the sound of her voice making it obvious that she was agitated. Finally, she ran out of steam and Melissa translated. “Erat wants to know why people are always killing and making war in her part of the word. She doesn’t understand why people can’t all just get along together.”
Throwing his hands up in the air, Azure said, “I do not understand either. I do not know why.” Then, turning to Erat: “But, even though there is no shalom between Iraq and Israel, there is shalom between you and me. ”
If children ran the world, we would have a far better chance for world peace. THIS I BELIEVE!
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