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Kitchen Lessons

rokan and her niece lamisCooking in a small kitchen that is not tailor-made for Instagram, where the single oven is packed with pans and foodstuffs like dates, there are two eager cooks, 20-something sisters, waiting to begin my “lesson plans” so that they’ll pass the online ServSafe exam, the industry standard.

Congregant Peggy Wolff is working with Rokan and Rokhash as they prepare to launch their business, R&R Catering. Follow their journey through Peggy's blog, Whisk & Pen.


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Youseff's Big Day

youseffawardresized1Last week, Youseff received an award for being a student with good character that works hard. Only three students from each class received an award. Unbeknownst to Yourseff, his mom, Rokhash, came to school for the ceremony with Am Shalom member and refugee family lead mentor, Esther Kusy-Leavitt. When he turned around and saw his mom, he grinned from ear to ear. He told his classmates near him that Rokhash and Esther were there for him. It was a wonderful celebration for everyone!

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Happy Birthday, Maryam!


Maryam’s 6th birthday, her first since arriving in the US, was her BEST DAY EVER!

Her celebration started with her kindergarten classmates, who made her a birthday crown, sang Happy Birthday and enjoyed cupcakes (from Am Shalom) with red heart rings (which were a BIG hit)!

After school, her parents invited their Am Shalom tutors and mentors to celebrate with delicious homemade baba ganoush and fattoush salad, amazing baklava and knafeh (all items from their catering menu btw!) and of course, a Frozen themed birthday cake. Maryam greeted us all at the door with a big smile and hugs for everyone while wearing her favorite pink tulle party dress with satin roses that she has been saving to wear for her special day.

While everyone was happy to celebrate Maryam and the life for which they are so grateful in the United States, it was bittersweet for her parents and aunt and uncle, who were all worried about their family still living in northwest Syria. They shared a video sent by friends of the bombing in their neighborhood from the night before.

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Fun at Kiddie Kingdom

KiddieKingdom4Sunday afternoon I took Maryam and Hussein, along with their mom, Rokan, to Kiddie Kingdom. The kids very much enjoyed all the action and sounds, and I was so impressed by how they knew how to operate the games and were able to figure out the ones that were a little trickier.

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Mentor Journal 12.12.17 - Zoo Lights

KhelosZooLightsRokash, Lamis and Youssef went to the zoo with mentor Deb Weil last week! It was really cold, but they walked around, saw some of the animals and enjoyed the zoo lights!

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Mentor Journal November 30 - Thanksgiving!

We are always late, because juggling food, people and cars x5 is never timely-- so when i got a text from Rokhash "I am in the way!" (Yes, you read that right.) -- I laughed and worried simultaneously that they would get there ahead of us! They did, but I had warned my friend Elaine to collect them from outside and encourage them to come inside and make themselves comfortable. Elaine's daughter, Allison, speaks Arabic, so I was relieved to find them inside being introduced when we finally got there.

They nibbled on appetizers, and smiled a lot while we tried to offer various foods. Allison chatted about how she came to know Arabic and about her archaeological work in Jordan and Turkey. When it came time to sit at the table, place cards had been written with everyone's name -- and everyone was encouraged to find their seat. Yousef had never seen his name written in cursive so he was convinced that he was being encouraged to sit in someone else's seat and became quite adamant about it. He recovered very nicely by telling us all that he knew something about the tooth fairy that we did not and proceeded to lead a hilarious guessing game for the next half hour. We all enjoyed the game including Lamis -- who guessed correctly -- and Aziz and Rokhash who find their son's ability to communicate and entertain in English, amazing! They left a bit early, I suspect, because they were tired, but I think they enjoyed themselves. We certainly enjoyed having them.

-Submitted by Deb Weil

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Mentor Journal November 7, 2017

I see the biggest challenge facing this family right now as learning English. Both Rokan and Abdulrahman are working hard in class and with tutors to master our challenging language. The ability to speak, read and write is going to be key in obtaining jobs and becoming independent. This is not an easy task but the entire family is now moving forward and getting better each day. Maryam has picked up the language fairly quickly and even Hussein speaks English words randomly like “I did it” when he completes a puzzle, one of his favorite activities.

For me the most amazing part of being on this team is the generosity of spirit I feel from the Abdulqaders. I went into this process thinking I had something to offer the family and could help them. However, every single time I have been with the Abdulqaders I get so much more than I give. I have seen Hussein go from not speaking much or interacting with outsiders to smiling, laughing and talking in English. Words cannot express the joy I feel as he smiles when I walk in the door. The hospitality of the Abdulqaders' culture is amazing. I have never been to their apartment without receiving some sort of sustenance. Rokan is insistent on giving of herself which means enjoying the fruits of her labor in the kitchen. You can feel the love and appreciation inside every bite.

-Submitted by Margie Pines

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Mentor Journal October 31, 2017


It is the very first Halloween for the Khelo and Abdulqader families and everyone is in the spirit!

Yousef is a zombie and ready to yell trick-or-treat for the very first time on his street in Skokie. His sister Lamis will be a witch, with a special witch’s hat! Maryam will be stepping out as a princess and of course Hussein her little brother will be none other than his favorite character… Elmo!

The families had so much fun carving pumpkins with us. Off they will go tonight for a devilishly fun experience (and WAY too much candy!)

- Submitted by Julie Stark

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Mentor Journal October 21, 2017

We have been working with Rokhash and Abdulrahman to prepare them for interviewing questions in the healthcare industry. We are interested in jobs in housekeeping and maintenance because that will allow for the earliest entry into a flexible job market with the English skills they have in place. It’s very difficult for everyone involved because often questions are complex and more subtle and outside the scope of basic English. That said, our friends throw themselves into the language thicket daily and have made (over the 6/9 months that they have been here) amazing progress. Rokhash, I am usually convinced, understands most of my simple conversation. But sometimes I get a glimpse of how it feels to put together basic words in a conversation as you interpret. You can end up with quite a word salad and very shy of the actual meaning.

I am amazed and very impressed at their courage and ability to face everyday with optimism and a good attitude but sometimes I see the tears behind their smiles.

- Submitted by Deb Weil

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Catching Up with Our Refugee Family

kidsatschoolconferencesWednesday was parent teacher conferences for Lamis and Yousef. Both children work with an English Language Learner (ELL) aide, who led the conferences. 

Lamis’ aide couldn’t say enough wonderful things about her – she is studious, well-behaved and contributes to class every day. Her aide has even decreased the amount of time that she works with Lamis outside of the classroom, since she’s already near the top of her class in math! She also shared that Lamis is making friends at school. 


yousefprojectYousef’s teacher and aide said that he’s eager to participate in class, though he sometimes becomes frustrated when he can’t express himself. Check out this project he worked on about elephants! Yousef is also doing great in math.

Aziz is very excited because he just received word that ORT is providing funds to train him on a new technical skill. He is looking forward to learning something new and the possibility of a new job.

Rokhash is an incredible cook (and Laura Horn can attest to this – she was invited to dinner!). She’s so good, in fact, that she’s contemplating going into business!

Have you joined Am Shalom’s Welcome Wagon? Click here to join our Facebook group and leave a message for the family!

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