On Wednesday, Leena Al-Arian took her kids Barnes & Noble to introduce them to the characters of the children's series Paw Patrol. While she was walking through the bookstore, a stranger approached her.
After saying hello and telling her how beautiful her girls were, the man apologized to her for the anti-Muslim sentiment evident in America today.
"He had tears in his eyes and told me that it must be so hard to turn on the news," she wrote in a Facebook post. "That he feels awful about the bigotry my kids might one day experience, and that as a Jewish man whose parents didn't speak any English growing up, he personally understands what it feels like to be rejected and discriminated against."
The man, who said he was turning 90 years old this week, asked her if he could buy gifts for her children. Al-Arian was so moved by the man's act of kindness that she suggested they take a picture instead. After they took a photo, he got the kids presents anyway.
The 90-year-old Jewish man, whose name was Lenny, has good reason to feel for Al-Arian. He's old enough to remember that in 1939, during World War II, Americans shared negative sentiments towards Jews similar to those that many feel towards Muslims and Syrian refugees today.
In fact, at the time, 61 percent of Americans were opposed to allowing 10,000 children into the United States from Germany, many of whom were Jewish.
In the wake of the Paris attacks in November, 53 percent of Americans said we should stop accepting refugees altogether. (They're in luck: in May, the New York Times reported that America is way behind its goal of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year.)
Americans' anti-refugee sentiment seems to correlate with their overall feelings towards Muslims. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that Americans feel coolly towards Muslims, rating their responses to the religious group a rather chilly 40 on a "feeling thermometer." In contrast, Catholics and Jews received ratings in the sixties, demonstrating that overall Americans felt considerably warmer towards their adherents.
Importantly, though, nearly half of all Americans (47 percent) say they don't actually know a Muslim personally. We hope that Lenny's story of reaching out and being neighborly will inspire others to be as well, so that these numbers might change for the better.
Taking The Lede is an A Plus original series featuring ordinary people who quietly do extraordinary things. We believe these unsung heroes deserve their place in the headlines.
View related content from our partners: