The story of our family foundation begins with the story of my parents, Ahmad and Elizabeth El-Hindi. Their story begins with shoes, old shoes as a matter of fact.
My father had come to this country in October of 1947, a Palestinian Muslim from Yazur, a village about four miles east of Jaffa (where the Jaffa oranges were first exported). He came to study engineering at Syracuse University, and was one of a handful of international students from the Middle East who felt the embrace of American Arabs in the local community — my mother being among them.
My mother, an American Catholic of Lebanese descent, was involved in a local club called the Syra-Merics. The Syra-Merics of Syracuse was a Syrian-Lebanese service group that was started in 1945 and became a social hub for the area Arab youth. My mother felt that the club should reach out to the international Arab students at Syracuse University, my father among them. She would see my father at their group events and decided to get to know a bit about him. “I knew he was hard-working,” she recalls, “and that he was working all kinds of jobs while going to school to send money to his family who had lost everything.”
The Syra-Merics often engaged in service and fundraising projects to benefit relief efforts in the Middle East. One such project was a clothing drive to help needy refugees who had been displaced in the migration from Palestine. My father’s entire family were among those Palestinian refugees. The Syra-Merics would be going to several places to collect clothes. My father was one of four volunteers who had cars and could provide transportation. My mother ended up in his group.
My parents were going into some pretty run-down places and my father recalls being touched by my mother’s concern for the refugees. They were sorting through a box of old shoes, salvaging those that could be sent to Jordan, where most of the Palestinian refugees migrated. “I knew she had a good heart,” he recalls. “I mean, here she was, an American Christian, far away from the struggle in my native land, and she was helping to find shoes and clothes for my people in Jordan, for people she did not even know. I knew that she must be a good-hearted and kind woman.”
Then he asked her out on a date. She said no. He asked her again, and once again, she said no. At his third attempt, she said, “maybe.” “I didn’t want him to feel he had to thank me for the clothing drive,” my mother later said. Nevertheless, the “maybe” turned into their first date – out to dinner at a place called Smiley’s where my mother ordered her favorite dish, spaghetti.
On April 9th 1955, they were married, an American Catholic and a Palestinian Muslim, and despite the religious difference, they entered into a bond that would last over sixty years. This bond would see them through the challenges and triumphs in raising their five children, and then to the ultimate joy of their sixteen grandchildren. I like to think of their commitment as a bond forged from mutual love and respect, a sense of responsibility to others, and the profound ability to walk in another person’s shoes.
Amelia El-Hindi Trail