Helping local Afghan refugees brings Jewish and Muslim communities together

An interfaith group collected, packaged new underwear for Afghan refugee children

SAN ANTONIO - – On Giving Tuesday, we think about what we can offer others.

4,500 Afghan refugees who escaped persecution in their country have landed here in the Alamo City.

While they work to support their family members here and those still stuck in Afghanistan, money is tight, and sometimes it’s hard to afford essential items.

The refugee children don’t often get colorful underwear covered in cute designs as they might want.

“A number of these families have multiple children, and so there is a constant need for underwear,” said Dr. Michael Ozer, the chair of the Social Action Committee at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio.

Ozer and his committee chose to help local refugees this holiday season under the umbrella of the national organization Undies for Everyone.

The Undies for Everyone nonprofit was created by Houston Rabbi Amy Weiss, who became a CNN Hero this year for her work.

“Not only we respond, but the Muslim community responds as well to help their own people, and I think that’s what’s beautiful about this event,” Ozer said.

Earlier this month, Ozer and the Jewish community invited the Muslim community to help collect donations and put together packs of fun, colorful undies for kids.

They spent hours together on November 9, arranging 360 packages of underwear with seven pairs in each package, one for every day of the week.

“At the end of it, we did have a little get-together. We invited them all to come and have some snacks with us and just to socialize,” said Gety Siddiqui with the Muslim Children Education and Civic Center.

Siddiqui also volunteers weekly at the San Antonio Center for Refugee Services, teaching English and helping with casework. She knows the importance of these types of donations.

The packages of underwear are now at the Center for Refugee Services, ready to be given out in a few weeks at their Holiday Giveaway event December 19-24.

Siddiqui said the joint effort shouldn’t be a surprise.

“People spread all kinds of hatred and lies,” Siddiqui said, explaining that the many stereotypes about both religious communities are simply false.

Siddiqui said this is one of several events she’s done with the Jewish community this year.

“We don’t even think about it, that there is a difference. We respect each other’s religion. We respect each other’s views,” she said.

“We have had diaper drives, we’ve had coat drives, and now we had the undies drive. All of these projects help to build relationships in an interfaith manner,” Ozer said.

They credit San Antonio with beautiful and long-lasting interfaith relations and want to keep it that way.

“All of these efforts at cooperation between interfaith communities have to begin on the local level,” Ozer said.

Both Ozer and Saddiqui are thrilled to do that while offering support to neighbors in need. They are thrilled to see the Afghan children receive their underwear in just a few weeks.

“They’re going to love them!” Saddiqui said.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.