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Someone you should know

One of the regular visitors to our Shabbat services is a lovely Cambodian woman named Chhomnath Long, whom we know simply as "Chumna." While it is often difficult to understand what she is saying, there is no problem appreciating all that she is doing. While her life has not been easy, she always seems to be overflowing with joy when she comes to visit us.

She generally comes to the Temple bearing large quantities of fruit and other items to share during the kiddush reception after services. She sits in the sanctuary and follows our service and usually afterwards asks permission to go back into the sanctuary and offer her personal prayers. This is very much in keeping with my article from last week about making the Temple a "house of prayer for all people" following the words of Isaiah.

We knew she was active in helping at the Food Bank in Aurora and elsewhere, but the article below from the Chicago Tribune gives us a much fuller picture of the altruistic activities of our regular worshiper. We're glad to see her activities recognized and we pray that she may continue to be a blessing to our community for many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Edward Friedman

Aurora Beacon News/Chicago Tribune

December 15, by Freelance Reporter Tom Strong

Fox Valley woman makes it her mission to help those in need in Aurora area: ‘She puts everyone else before herself'

My friend Esmerelda Chavez-Hernandez, who is the administrative specialist for Adult Education at the Waubonsee Community College downtown Aurora campus, messaged me recently with her thought about doing a good “community servant” story. I agreed to meet with Chavez-Hernandez along with Waubonsee student Chhomnath Long, an immigrant from Cambodia who came to the United States in 1992. Amazed is an overused word, but I was more than amazed while learning all about Long’s life and the mission that she has taken upon herself.

She was born in Cambodia in 1955, and suffered greatly when the dictator Pol Pot gained control of the the country in 1975. The dictator perpetrated terrible atrocities during what became known as the Cambodian genocide. Estimates are that between 1.5 million and 2 million people were killed. “She was a survivor of the genocide, but watched her entire family, except for one sister, be killed in front of her,” said Nora Munro, one of Long’s GED teachers at Waubonsee. “Before coming to America, she lived in a refugee camp her entire life. She’s the most wonderful person in the entire world, and I absolutely adore her.”

Faced with the struggles of any immigrant, especially one coming from a horrible and repressive state, Long bravely set out to make a life for herself and her son in the United States. But from the time of her arrival, she also made it her mission to help those less fortunate than she. Her story is unique and beautiful. “Chhomnath has been in our adult education program for several years,” said Chavez-Hernandez. “She has moved frequently and has struggled, but throughout all of it, she is always thinking about others. She has come into our lives to show us what a true volunteer is. Our teachers are all amazed at what she does for the community.”

Her efforts are centered on helping people who have food insecurity. There is no day that she is not pulling a cart full of food for those in need, no matter the season and the temperature outside. “She has no car, so she walks and takes buses,” Munro said. “She has relationships with all the food banks, but doesn’t go to get food for herself. She walks all over in rain and snow to the food banks, and then takes it to shut-ins unable to go themselves. She also gives food to homeless people, and visits Hesed House too.”

Because of continuing housing problems, Long had to relocate to an apartment in Elgin with the help of Munro and her husband. It has not deterred her from continuing her education and mission here in Aurora. A typical day might find her rising at 4 a.m. and taking the bus at about 6 a.m. Even a severe injury did not seem to slow her down. “A number of years ago, while serving her ‘discipleship,’ she was hit by a car and suffered a head injury,” Munro said. “That injury has had a continuing effect on her language skills.” Long is well known, and has been helped along the way by teachers, administrators and others. “Everyone knows her, even the bus drivers,” Chavez-Hernandez said. One of the others who has helped is the owner of Endiro Coffee in downtown Aurora. “There is a refrigerator at Endiro, and Mr. Cody lets me put food there for the homeless. It’s quickly gone each day,” Long said.

After hearing so much about her from her teachers and school friends, I talked alone with Long about her life and her mission. She is difficult to understand at times, but her message came through loudly and clearly. “I pray ‘Lord I’m not going to stay home no matter what the weather. I love you and your children, and I know you will strengthen me. I only have my life, and I’ll do the best I can to please you,’” she said.

Although her feelings about the United States were pretty obvious as we talked, I asked her to put them into words. “Oh America ... it is amazing,” she said. “There is opportunity for all people, and America offers so much that I can’t count all the ways. All people come here to find freedom. I cry because I love America.”

Munro best summarized the feelings of all of Chhomnath Long’s friends.

“I will remember her as the most sacrificing, God loving, unselfish person I have ever met,” she said. “She would rather not eat for weeks at a time to make sure that everyone else can have food and be taken care of. She puts everyone else before herself.”

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