What began with my post on a profile in courage — Son of Bhutan: A Georgia First, has evolved into a series of community portraits. This community comprises Atlanta’s 4,000 Bhutanese refugees and asylees and their more than 5 million new neighbors.
I have been documenting them with photos, videos, and text in blog posts, and including my associations with each subject and what drives me to choose it. I care less about facts and more about spirit. And I try to lift up the refugees and asylees who are often reduced to mispronounced names, demeaning (to the speaker) stereotypes, and platitudinous phrases by bland statistics, demographics, caricatures, and hollow, disconnected sound bites. And I like to tip my hat to Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group volunteers and others who are partnering with our new neighbors on multiple fronts, daily.
Community member in focus:
A tzadik [Hebrew: righteous person]
While he refrains from name-calling and shuns labels to describe people, I publicly defy here my pal Craig, a tzadik.
צַדִּיק, כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח; כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּה, the righteous man springs up like the palm tree, like the Lebanon cedar he towers.
— תהילים צב, Psalm 92:13
The image of the righteous as a flowering tree suits this tzadik, whose hands are in the earth growing organic veggies, and whose head and heart are in "doing" our Jewish faith through what our Christian cousins would call “good works.”
Standing on the eighth rung of Maimonides' Ladder of Charitable Giving, Craig guest blogged about Joe Franco (1909-2008) here, celebrating the long, loving life of his late father-in-law and a beloved community leader. Drawing on life lessons Joe taught by example, Craig imparts Joe's wisdom to a new generation of foreign-born residents — newly arrived in a time of disastrous economic conditions, as Joe was nearly a century ago.
Craig's letter to his new Bhutanese teen friends
I got all your email addresses from Tamar who sent the photos of our workday [clearing vines from trees in the park]. You are wonderful young people with very bright futures. You were fun to work with, and I am happy how well we did trimming vines from trees in four hours, doing such hard work. [Craig's award — a carton of mango juice for the hardest workers went to both young women in the group!]
Rita (my wife) reminded me that her father [Joe Franco] came to this country when he was 20 years old. He graduated high school in Greece, got a job in Africa, and then came to the United States in 1929, which was the year of the Great Depression. Business was terrible, and people were hungry and poor. Despite that he made a wonderful life for himself, lived to be 98, and had five children. All are educated and have their own homes and live comfortably.
I believe the keys to his success were his education, his good and honest nature, and his willingness to work. All of you excel in these areas. May good things continue to happen for you.
We will work in the park again when it is cooler. And I will be thinking of things we can do or ways to work together! Tamar is a good friend, so I know I will be seeing you soon.
After a sweltering summer's workday followed by lunch, Craig relaxes with Eliana, his daughter; Rita, his wife; Nirmala and Bishnu, who captured the prize mango juice; and the guys, who later posed for individual photos with the machetes that they used to trim the trees.