Monday, July 25, 2005

Sometimes a Box Is Just a Box

A colleague of mine told me a harrowing tale of her experience on public transit. She boarded a train and saw a man standing in the back, moving in strange ways. She thought he might be a suicide bomber: he had little boxes apparently taped to his body. Being the responsible citizen that she is, she promptly reported it to the conductor. The conductor laughed. He said, "I thought the same thing the first time I saw him, but he's not a bomber. It's a Jewish prayer thing."

The little boxes she saw "taped" (actually strapped with leather) to his body were tefillin, boxes containing verses of scripture that are worn during morning prayer to fulfill the commandment "bind them [words of Torah] as a sign upon your hand and they shall be frontlets between your eyes" (Deut. 11:18). The boxes certainly contain something of great power, but not in the way my colleague had in mind!

I found her story quite amusing until a few days later, I received an email from an old friend whose story of post-9/11 paranoia has taken a much less amusing turn. My friend is a doctor at University of Pittsburgh's medical school. He wanted to let me know about the troubling status of his boss's 70-year-old brother, Gokal Kapoor, and I will pass this story along to you.

Dr. Wishwa Kapoor, my friend's boss, is a native of Afganistan and has been an American citizen for 25 years. His older brother, Gokal Kapoor, and his wife left Afganistan in 1997, fleeing religious oppression by the Taliban. They sought asylum, but were denied. On June 22, 2005, after their work permits ran out, immigration officers appeared on their doorstep to take them "for questioning." They never came home. No one ever told their young son, who graduated high school that very day, what happened to them or where they were. The family hired a lawyer, who eventually managed to track them down to a detention center in their home state of Virginia. They apparently have not been questioned nor charged with any crime. At the time of this writing, Gokal and his wife are still detained and have had no direct contact with their family. The family is afraid that this 70-year-old man and his 67-year-old wife will be deported to Afganistan, a country in shambles where religious hatred runs rampant, where they may well be murdered for their minority beliefs.

According to the family's website, the Immigration office and Congress have received so many faxes in regard to this family's situation that they have asked people to stop sending them! The family has agreed and is discontinuing its fax campaign at this time, hoping that they will soon be reunited.

Please do not send any faxes or letters at this time, out of respect for the family's request. However, I encourage you to keep your eye on the family's website, to make sure that this unfortunate situation comes to a happy conclusion, and to be prepared to contact your representatives if it does not. And I encourage you to remember this story, and mention it whenever you hear anyone say (as conservative pundits often do) that no injustices have been committed under the Patriot Act.

The Kapoor family's website:
From Newsweek:
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Judaism 101 on Tefillin:

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