PATERSON, NJ - For three Paterson men, Diayaa Khatib, Mohammed Hlal, and Samir Al Khawaldah the challenge of overcoming the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19 was secondary to the one that saw them arrive from Syria less than five years ago to build new lives for themselves.
On Monday, those new lives, in what may be the ultimate manifestation of the American Dream, culminated in them celebrating the opening of their own restaurant.
Located at 1136 Main Street, in what Mayor Andre Sayegh refers to Paterson’s Halal Meatpacking District, Nour Al-Sham, following a recipe of “good service, good prices, and amazing food”, has already proven to be a success, the men said, something that Sayegh said “encouraged” him, especially at a time when some estimate as many as 30 percent of previously opened restaurants will stay shuttered in the wake of the global health pandemic.
Theirs is the story, perhaps even more dramatically so, of past generations of immigrants. Arriving from a war torn country, with no money in his pockets, Hlal reflected that he was overwhelmed by the support he received from his new neighbors, including things that seem so routine as finding the bus stop and where to go food shopping. “Everyone tried to help,” he said.
Support also came from Global Emergency Response & Assistance (GERA). Founded by Sikander Khan who also serves as an Economic Development Representative for the City of Paterson, the non-profit organization that works directly with refugee families by “advocating for their full participation in our communities.”
Hlal reflected on dreaming about living in California as a child, a far off place he kew of from television, living in Jordan for six years before getting the chance to come across the Atlantic, and ultimately landing in Paterson in 2016 where he would learn English at Passaic County Community College.
Leaving no question about his work ethic, one shared by his colleagues as evidenced by their desire to get away from the cameras and back into the kitchen, Hlal said that “Syrian people are very successful because we always try to be the best at any work we do.”
As for his assimilation into the United State, something Khan said proves claims that refugees are a “burden on the system” are false, Hlal concluded that he feels all he has come in contact with, no matter their ethnic background, are “friends and brothers.”
“We are part of this community.”