Reaching Out in Welcome this Thanksgiving

By Dan Friedman

Two young Afghan boys, recently resettled with their families in Philadelphia, sing the ABC song they learned in a newcomer English class during HIAS Pennsylvania's Thankful Together program, November 21, 2021.

After the rushed evacuation of Afghanistan at the end of the summer, thousands of new Americans are experiencing their first Thanksgiving this week. The lingering effects of the pandemic and ongoing resettlement efforts means that HIAS affiliates around the country are not able to gather with their clients in person this holiday season, but nevertheless communities are reaching out in welcome.

In Philadelphia, the Thankful Together gathering organized annually by HIAS Pennsylvania was held virtually for the second year, but still attracted hundreds of Zoom participants who enjoyed songs, dances and heartfelt presentations. And around the country, from California to Oklahoma and from Ohio to New York, case managers are making sure their clients have a home in which to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Even if new arrivals are included in local celebrations, they might experience culture shock when presented with a menu of turkeys, gravy, tubers and cranberries. As one of the HIAS PA interpreters shared during Thankful Together, when her parents came over from Pakistan, her family didn’t initially celebrate — maybe they were distrustful of what it meant about their identity or unsure about the American food. Now though, as a parent herself, she celebrates at a table set with both turkey and biryani.

Isolation is especially a concern for recent arrivals in the country, who are living in a new area and who don’t speak fluent English. The Turkish Cultural Center in Pittsburgh is working with HIAS affiliate JFCS Pittsburgh this week to bring food to newly arrived Afghans. Executive member Serap Uzunoglu explained, “It’s hard to be a newcomer and an arrival to a new city. Especially if you don’t know the language, the first time in the US, it’s hard to do even any of the paperwork you need.”

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