My International Kids: Khaled

My International Kids: Khaled [1]

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

n Toronto, in the absence of my children when they headed for the American Southwest, I “adopted” a surrogate family. For two years, I consecutively hosted what I called “my international kids,” a “family” of students from a variety of countries. They arrived with student visas that had been arranged in their countries of origin. I gave them my hospitality, my love, and my guidance in a strange land. From each of them I learned more than they learned from me.

My last student was called Khaled [not his real name] – and I would love him most of all. Like my own son. Khaled was from Saudi Arabia, and I was Canadian. He was Muslim, and I was Jewish. Like the other students I had hosted from many lands, he had come to Canada on a student visa to study at a private school catering to international students who wanted to learn English.

“You are so good with the students,” the coordinator cajoled. “If you are not happy, just call us, and we’ll place him elsewhere.”

Only Khaled didn’t know that he was coming to a Jewish home when he arrived at my home, fresh off the plane and obviously agitated because his luggage had apparently been lost and would be delivered to him later by immigration authorities. Every few minutes he kept stepping out of my home to nervously puff on a cigarette – the school had advised him that he could not smoke on my indoor premises.

He was bareheaded (later he wore a baseball cap) at the time and wearing a business suit, white shirt, and tie that were his usual garb during his more formal, first days in Canada. Sweat was glistening on his dark-skinned face, and his eyes darted nervously around, hesitant to look at me directly. His small mustache quivered above his compressed lips. He was twenty-six years old.

I didn’t know then that I was the first unveiled woman, apart from his mother and sisters, with whom he had ever been alone. Or that he had never before met a Jew.

I had struggled with my own doubts about accepting him as a resident in my home when the school had almost begged me to take him in. “We have such trouble in placing Saudis,” the harried housing coordinator explained. “Most of the Saudi students who come to us are from very wealthy families and tend to be somewhat arrogant. They treat the people who house them like servants.” She told me about one Saudi prince who was furious when the father of the hosting family asked him to limit his time on the only computer in the house. “The prince stamped out angrily,” she confided, “and came back a little later with is own newly purchased lap top.”

Khaled was not a prince. He had not travelled internationally. The only places he had ever visited outside of Saudi Arabia, and then only briefly with his father, a music teacher, were the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He came, he said, from a “middle class” family of Bedouin heritage (cousins seek to marry cousins, and males must pay a bride price)in Saudi Arabia. The combined family income, with each of his eight brothers (several of whom had some degree of sickle cell disease) contributing, came to about $25,000 weekly.

When he sat down on my white-tiled kitchen floor to mix the rice for the meal he had offered to cook for me, it brought home to me the enormous chasm that separated our cultures – Khaled who called me “Mummy.” The worst day in his own mother’s life, she told her sons, was the one she was too sick to make her husband lunch and forgot to phone him not to come home for it.

“He loved her so much,” Khaled said with pride, “that he didn’t beat her.”

* * * *

Soon after I had transplanted myself to California – living now en famille with my daughter and infant grandchild – I received a concerned e-mail message from Khaled. It was 2001, and the 9/11 disaster was filling the world’s media screens.

“How are you, Mummy? Are you okay? How is your family?”

I noted that the return address on the e-mail was blank but replied immediately. “Yes, we are all okay in Los Angeles. Where are you, Khaled?”

“I am still in Toronto, Mum,” he answered. “I am trying to finish my studies.”

“I am glad that we had a chance to get to know and love one another in Toronto,” I responded calmly. “Let us hope for peace in the world, despite this madness.”

The last e-mail I would receive from him read, “They are crazy, Mummy. They kill everything, even peace.”

[1] ©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved. Adapted from Corinne Heather Copnick, Cryo Kid: Drawing a New Map, Los Angeles, (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008). Finalist, Next Gen Awards of Excellence, 2009. Available from