Yearning to breathe free

A year ago, eight Syrian families fled the violence of their homeland and immigrated to Greater Boston. They were among the last such refugees allowed into the United States as a result of the Trump administration’s multiple efforts to ban immigrants from certain majority Muslim countries, including Syria. To smooth the transition, Jewish Family Service of Metrowest launched the Syrian Refugee Humanitarian Project, working with Jewish synagogues, Islamic centers, doctors, dentists, businesses, and an army of volunteers to provide safety, hope and a new life to these immigrants. The Globe spent the past year following the refugees’ sometimes painful, sometimes joyous journey. From their first steps on American soil, Globe photographer Suzanne Kreiter and reporter Jenna Russell documented their struggles to acclimate to the climate, both meteorological and political; their efforts to adapt to a new culture while preserving their heritage; their determination to achieve self-sufficiency; and the bonds of friendship they forged with people who practice a religion they were taught as children to hate. Photography by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff -- read more from the series --
At Logan Airport, Nermin Helaly (holding paper), a case manager with the JFS Syrian Humanitarian Project, greeted Um Alnoor with a giant hug in November 2016. The Alnoors were the first of eight Syrian refugee families to arrive before the Trump administration enacted a ban on immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. -- Editor’s note: Some names in this photo gallery have been changed to protect the subjects’ privacy. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Late at night, the 5-year-old son of the Alnoors was tired after his 24-hour journey from Jordan.
(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Asmaa Hayani held her exhausted and crying children at Logan Airport last January after arriving at Logan Airport from Jordan, a country they felt did not want them. Everyone had warned them not to come to the United States. At center is her husband, Abdulkader. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader Hayani, in the first moments of arriving at his new home in Framingham, puts his youngest daughter, Ameeneh, to bed. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Members of Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley carried household items last January into the Framingham home they had prepared for the Hayani family. They moved in three days later. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
A donated snowsuit hung in a closet, waiting for one of the Hayani daughters to wriggle into it. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
On one of her first days in the United States, Asmaa Hayani and her family felt like strangers in a strange land. A volunteer had taken her to shop at a halal market in Norwood. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Seven-year-old Ali Hayani rode the bus on his first day of school. His father, Abdulkader, knew he and his 9-year-old brother were afraid. Everything was strange and intimidating. They knew no one, and could not speak the language. The games and rules that mattered here were mysteries to them. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Mustafa Hayani met guidance counselor Tim Hintz during his tour of his new school in Framingham. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Asmaa held a cooking class for the volunteers who have been helping her family. At left, Stephanie Juma translated for the other volunteers, including Bonnie Rosenberg (center) and Lisa Weinstock (right), as Asmaa made rice pudding. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Tension and stress showed on the face of JFS case manager Nermin Helaly as she filled the refrigerator on Jan. 11 for a Syrian family whose arrival that night had just been postponed. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Marc Jacobs, chief executive officer at JFS, became emotional as he addressed his staff, the day after President Trump announced his intention to ban all Syrian refugees. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Ali Hayani drew the word “Syria” in English on a new toy. Learning English has been harder for the parents than for the children. Often now, Mustafa and Ali translate for their parents. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
The first Syrian family to be welcomed by JFS in the Metrowest area settle into their new life. Abu Alnoor quickly found a job. Here, they walk their son to school. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader set up his new professional-grade sewing machine as his daughter Ameeneh played in the box it arrived in. The machine was purchased with donations from families at the Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland. In Syria, Abdulkader had a thriving tailoring shop, which he had to abandon in the war. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader had to leave school at age 9 to apprentice as a tailor. Everything this move demanded of him -- learning English, finding a job -- was so much harder because he had left school. Nine-year-old Mustafa spoke of leaving school to find work to help his family. His parents coaxed him to focus on the future, a possible career in medicine or engineering. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader left a job interview at a clothing store in April. There was no immediate opening for him there, but the connection eventually led to his placement in a full-time position a few weeks later. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader also quickly took on a second job, turning old fur coats into linings for raincoats. He finished his first coat in the summer for customer Ellen Cohen Kaplan at Forever Fur. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Temple Beth Elohim members mingled with the Syrian families at a party at a temple member’s home. Barbara Shapiro, one of the Jewish volunteers, picked up the youngest of the Syrian refugees. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
In September, an invitation came from a local professional dance company. Selmadance was planning a collaborative performance, with Muslim and Jewish dancers. They asked Abdulkader and the other Syrian men to dance with them. The night of the performance, Abdulkader and his sons waited backstage with the other dancers. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Ali Hayani played with a hulahoop backstage before the dance performance. Abdulkader made his sons’ costumes for a traditional Middle Eastern folk dance, the dabke. He taught his boys the dance, as his older brothers had taught him. It was a link to their heritage and homeland, and it felt more precious now, as he watched his sons in a new land. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Abdulkader (left) had not danced the traditional dabke in years. Every memory he had of it took him back to that lost world, before the war. His country was in ruins; his family scattered. People were still dying. How then could they dance? Abdulkader was joined in rehearsal at Green Street Studios by fellow Syrian refugees Mahmoud Aljasem and Ahmad Aljelou. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Five-year-old Mohamad Aljasem and his parents had been settled in Framingham for only four weeks when his parents threw him his first-ever birthday party. They also used the occasion to thank the volunteers from local temples and the resettlement agency staffers. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
The Hayani children prayed in their living room. It thrilled Abdulkader and Asmaa that their children would have so many more opportunities, even as they longed to keep them close. They have learned that in the United States, children frequently leave home in their late teens. In Syria it was different, they say -- families stayed together. They wonder what will happen here. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
In March, as immigration advocates battled the Trump administration in court on its efforts to block refugees from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries, Maryam Aljasem (center), who had arrived four weeks before, welcomed the newest Syrian family to arrive. The resettlement agency wondered how many more families would be allowed to come; it turned out to be just one more family. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Five months after arriving in America with her husband and two young sons, Maryam Aljasem got a job at Whole Foods. She walks to the store before dawn to begin her 5:00am shift in the prepared foods department. Her husband, Mahmoud, watches her walk safely to the store near their apartment. He goes to his job after she returns in the afternoons. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
The Hayani family had arrived in Boston on a rainy night in January, and had been stunned by the warmth of the welcome they found. And then they had been stunned to learn, soon after their arrival, that the people helping them were Jewish. They had been taught that Jews were their enemy. In September, on Yom Kippur, the eight Syrian families were welcomed to Temple Beth Elohim. Asmaa, surrounded by her new Jewish friends, descended from the bimah after thanking the congregation for their love and support. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
The Syrian families walked to the temple on Yom Kippur with their Jewish friends, invited by the rabbi, who would offer them a blessing. Bonnie Rosenberg holds Fatimah Hayani’s hand, next to Fatimah’s sister Ameeneh and her mother, Asmaa. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Bonnie Rosenberg, a temple member and volunteer, pauses to hug Asmaa Hayani on the walk to Temple Beth Elohim on Yom Kippur. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
Asmaa’s first visit to an American beach was fraught for her and for volunteer Jessica Lasser. How would a conservative Muslim feel surrounded by Americans in bathing suits? Asmaa stood out in her long coat and head scarf. At first, Asmaa stayed anchored on the blanket in a shaded nook, staying busy by setting out her homemade Middle Eastern dishes. Eventually, she left the shade, slipped off her shoes, walked to the water, lifted her coat, and stepped in. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
The Syrian children, escorted and instructed by the Jewish volunteers, celebrated their first Halloween. With a US flag on her helmet, Fatimah Hayani dressed as an astronaut. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
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