So we were going to go to the Chabad house, but I caught a head cold and with no ability to rest and recover, wasn't up to it. Instead we spent Sunday with Walter's Kurdish friend in Slagelse and her family. They escaped from Syria to Denmark a few years ago. Walt's friend's dad was first and now almost all of the family is here. It was heartbreaking that Walt's friend's grandpa is still stuck there, her aunt's husband and her aunt's two eldest are trapped in a refugee camp in Greece. All of them had to amass huge sums of money to get out of the country. In the case of the aunt, they applied, they were shuffled from Turkey to Greece where they applied for asylum in Denmark. The aunt was given it for her and her youngest daughter, but the sons aged 16 and 17 were denied. Now the elder has aged out and has no ability to apply where for the other son if they can figure out how to get him into the country, he'd be able to apply. Worse, stuck in this camp in Greece, they have no ability to work or study, it's like a people holding pen.
In case you didn't know, the Kurds are a lot like Jews, they have no home country. They lived in a part of the middle east that was carved up by Western Europeans into new nations. They have their own language and culture and an ancient religion where they retain the names of the gods, but modern Kurds are mainly atheists or mildly religious Muslims, which in an increasingly radicalized Middle East is a very dangerous theological position to be in. I asked if there was a lot of discrimination in Syria, did they have trouble finding housing and jobs. Initially he said, no, they were treated like any other Arab, until I understood what he was really saying. Kurdish language was forbidden in Syria, you couldn't speak in it, write in it, teach in it...your choices were to live in a Shetl as an "illegal immigrant", even though they had been living there before Syria was a country, or you could denounce being Kurdish and live in the city. The family I was talking to were city Kurds, meaning they'd chosen names that had both a Kurdish and an Arabic meaning, they would only speak Kurdish at home, they'd celebrate their one unique holiday in secret, like Jews they were good at spotting other Kurds in hiding, but in public they would pretend to be just like everyone else. If they were outed, they would be stripped of their citizenship and jailed. Also, "fun" side note, he said that talking to someone who had self declared herself a Jew, like me, was also grounds for getting yourself kicked out of their special brand of Islamic church and persecuted.
The saddest part was he showed me his ancestral home, which has been taken over by extremist rebels. He showed me pictures of teenage boys armed to the teeth holding up their index fingers, which in the Arab world is a symbol that means "I have one purpose, to kill all of you or die trying." For the Kurds, there is no happy outcome to the war, either it's back to the Syrian government's tyrannical regime or it's the country being overrun with Islamic extremists who consider them infidels. They have no home country they can flee to.
This is a lucky family, they had means to mostly get out, they're smart (Walt's friend's dad is finishing a masters in engineering and the sister I met is getting a Chemistry masters), they're planning on changing their last name from something generically Arab to something more Danish. The dad has learned to immediately announce to new coworkers that he's an atheist to put them more at ease and the worst discrimination he's dealt with is old ladies snapping at him that they don't need his help. He hopes his daughter with grow up Kurdish, but also Danish and while he'd like her to carry on the culture, he's perfectly happy for her to marry a Danish man, as long as he's a good husband. These are the kind of immigrants any country should want.
Walt wanted to sit by himself....