Solomon Schechter invites inspirational heroes for Hanukkah
Luma Mufleh, keynote speaker for the Power of One at Solomon Schechter Day School, talks about her experience being the soccer coach of the Fugees at the school Monday. The Fugees are made up of refugees from 28 war-torn countries. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-T
Updated: December 13, 2012 3:10PM
NORTHBROOK — The Power of One program at Solomon Schechter Day School started Monday with a keynote speaker known around the world for helping children.
Years ago, Lumah Mufleh formed a youth soccer team in Clarkston, Georgia, called the Fugees — short for refugees — mostly made up of players from 28 war torn countries.
“This was a pivotal moment in my life,” she told Schechter students during the school’s annual Hanukkah program, after seeing one boy named “one-shoe” take off his only shoe after soccer practice.
A soccer player born in Jordan, coach Mufleh said her team did not have basic equipment and played in the streets, but truly enjoyed the game.
Soon, the Fugees became her family.
They came from Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Congo, Somalia and Sudan. In America, they lived in large apartment complexes.
In 2004 she sent out fliers, announcing team tryouts, that were written in Arabic, English, French and Vietnamese.
“My main message to the kids here today is follow your passion. Doing so may not be financially lucrative, but their communities and lives will be a much a better place,” Mufleh said.
Before organizing the Fugees, in 1997 she graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and decided to live in the U.S.
Admittedly, she grew up in a wealthy and privileged family in Jordan.
Considered a “social entrepreneur,” Mufleh also has created several businesses to employ refugees and immigrants, such as Fresh Start, a cleaning business for residential and commercial properties.
In 2010 she also started Queen Food Company, a food truck business employing parents and graduates that focuses on ethnic street food.
Her most recent endeavor will be building the Refugees Academy, the first school for refugee boys and girls in America.
“The school is not built yet, but we bought 19 acres for more than 60 students,” Mufleh said, adding Universal Studios has agreed to produce a movie about her altruism.
“It’s kind of weird. I really don’t think anything about me is movie-worthy,” she said.
Yael Ben-Dat, a Judaism teacher at Schechter, said the Power of One program is for fifth- and eighth-grade students once every three years during Hanukkah — the Festival of Lights.
Nearly 20 people were scheduled Monday to address the students.
“It’s the idea of these people being heroes and fighting for a cause you believe,” Ben-Dat said.
“We light candles during Hanukkah to light the world. These speakers today are lighting our world.”
Other speakers invited to Solomon Schechter:
■ Pam Devereux, the CEO of The Gift of Adoption that financially helps parents with adopting homeless children.
■ Tommy Lee Johnston, a Chicago playwright who wrote “Gifted,” a story about bullying, social standing, love and forgiveness.
■ Mark Weinberg, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who often sues the city for police policies, such as violating panhandlers’ legal rights by harassing them without reasonable suspicion, according to a release. He has won six such lawsuits against the city.
■ Twelve-year-old Gabriella Cooperman, of Highland Park, who has raised more than $10,000 for Equestrian Connection, an organization that uses therapeutic horseback riding to help adults and children with low bone muscle and other developmental delays.