By LINDA MOSS
Perhaps wistful for their native cuisine, when Syrian immigrants Alsayed Abbas and Abd Al Rahman Ajlooni visited Manhattan for the first time ever last week, they chowed down on falafel from a street cart.
“It was great,” according to Abbas, who said that he often ate that traditional Middle Eastern dish back in his native land.
Abbas, 30, and Ajlooni, 35, arrived in the United States two weeks ago under the sponsorship of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark and St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Montclair. They have been staying with a township resident’s family, embarking on the exciting and challenging process of assimilating and making a life in America. They are eager, and looking for assistance, to find jobs and an apartment.
The bloody strife in Syria led both men to leave that country, and each spent more than four years in Bangkok, Thailand, waiting to get the necessary clearances to come to America. Ajlooni has a wife and children back in Syria, and hopes to bring them to the states eventually. Recalling the situation in Syria, Abbas explained his reason for leaving his homeland.
“To get a better life for me, for my future,” he said. “When I see the war in front of me and people get killed … Thank God I was lucky to get out, and I pray daily for the people who are still there.”
Abbas and Ajlooni spoke while seated at a dining room table with Catherine Mulroe, who has been providing temporary lodging at her house for both men since they arrived in America. Mulroe is a parishioner at St. Teresa’s, part of the Newark archdiocese.
And the archdiocese’s new leader, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, has been championing efforts to assist refugees. Earlier this year the Church of the Immaculate Conception, one of the two churches that make up St. Teresa’s parish, hosted a meeting in Montclair where a representative of Catholic Charities spoke about refugee resettlement. This led to the arrangements for Abbas and Ajlooni to come to Montclair.
“They’re super, super anxious to assimilate, to work,” Mulroe said of her guests. “They just want to work, really. They’re lovely. They’re intelligent, they’re pleasant, they’re just really interesting and it’s a pleasure having them.”
Both men have enjoyed their stay in Montclair so far.
“I see many people with smiles on their face,” Ajlooni said. “I see many people standing together and laughing together. They care about each other.”
He speaks some English, but at times Abbas, who is fluent in the language, helps him out by translating.
Abbas is as enthusiastic about Montclair as Ajlooni.
“Everything is lovely,” Abbas said. “People are friendly.”
Mulroe has taken them to Immaculate Conception already to meet some of its parishioners. Ajlooni is Muslim, while Abbas said he was born Muslim but doesn’t actively practice the religion.
The New York City sightseeing trip was deemed a success.
“I love it,” Abbas said. “It’s like the dream of my life. We went to Fifth Avenue and Times Square, Broadway.”
Ajlooni said he liked the seeing all the people, the shops — and eating the falafel.
The task for St. Teresa and Catholic Charities now is to find work for and a permanent place for both men to stay.
In Syria, Abbas was a coordinator at an advertising company, and at the same time was also studying sociology at Damascus University. He said that he also attended and graduated from a welding and machining institute. Ajlooni was a car mechanic and driver back home. Finding work is the first priority for both men.
“I’m full of energy,” Abbas said. “I have no [fear] … in my heart.
He said that he trusts that he will make Catholic Charities and St. Teresa’s proud.
As for housing, Abbas and Ajlooni have a place to stay for the next few months once they leave Mulroe’s house. She and her husband contacted an interfaith group that serves Bloomfield and Glen Ridge to arrange it. The Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield has a house in its backyard that it will be letting the two refugees stay in temporarily, Mulroe said. The church is near the Bloomfield Public Library, where Ajlooni is taking classes in English as a second language.
As newcomers, Abbas and Ajlooni don’t have references or credit scores, but Catholic Charities and St. Teresa will be paying rent for their apartment, which needs to be in the $1,300- to-$1,500-a-month-rent range, according to Mulroe. For now, the two men will live together. Catholic Charities’ goal is to have both men fully independent financially within 12 to 18 months, she said.
Abbas and Ajlooni have been attending acculturation meetings at Catholic Charities in Newark, and have taken care of tasks like getting their Social Security cards.
Ajlooni dreams of getting his family to America, and said he wants to build a life for them here.
Asked if there will ever be peace in Syria, Abbas said, “I hope so.”