Three Generations of Support: Our Family & Anera
By Betty Sams
In August of 1967, 50 people from all over the U.S. came to our home in Bethesda, Maryland for dinner. It was two months after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and they represented the many different committees that had mobilized to raise and send aid to the Palestinians, both those who were suffering under occupation and those who were made refugees. Under my husband Jim’s chairmanship, they had spent the day heatedly discussing whether or not to unite under one umbrella organization and had not been able to reach agreement.
I like to think it was my Lebanese cooking, or perhaps the informality of people crammed into chairs and sofas and on the floor, that led to success. But more likely, after much back and forth, what decided it was when a wonderful judge from Cleveland, Joe Nahra, said “If there is one thing we are very, very good at, it is arguing.” Everyone burst into laughter and finally reached agreement. They created a single national organization and Jim was tasked with convening a National Conference in Detroit that October. That successful conference resulted in Jim drawing up the Articles of Incorporation and Anera was created.
The 1967 war had brought many voices together to help with Anera’s formation. Our dear friend, Orin Parker, President of The American Friends of the Middle East (now called Amideast) offered office space and the assistance of Steve Green from his staff to help with the August meeting and the Detroit Conference. Jim repaid Orin by stealing John Richardson from his post as the American Friends representative in Beirut to become the first Executive Director. The founding members each contributed $10,000 to match the $100,000 grant from NEED, a US corporate fund, which enabled the office to be opened in DC and John Davis to become President of the new organization. Anera’s history is one of good people with good will and dedication that continues to this day.
Jim and I are of Lebanese descent and were born and raised in Michigan, Jim in Bay City and I in Flint. His passion for Lebanon began when he spent his 10th grade year at ACS in Beirut. Mine began when I spent my junior year in college at AUB and lived with my mother’s sister and her children. It was a most wonderful year of exploring my heritage and sharing memorable experiences with my large extended family and friends from all the vibrant communities in Lebanon. That year also exposed me to the complicated politics of Lebanon and the Middle East and introduced me to Palestinian culture and to the plight of those who had become refugees.
After our marriage in 1957, we moved 11 times before settling in Washington in 1960. Jim’s law practice involved working with clients and governments from the Middle East. In 1965 he was asked to go on a State Department trip to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Algeria to lecture on the US legal system. That trip reinforced his commitment – and mine – to the lifelong task of educating ourselves, our friends, and our community about events in the Middle East and especially the conditions under which the Palestinian refugees live.
We moved to Beirut in 1971 when Jim opened an office for an international law firm. We returned to the U.S. in 1975 to find an Anera that had grown in staff and projects under the inspired leadership of John Davis and John Richardson. Over the next decades, Jim was – and we are – grateful for the continuing strong leadership and the incredible and dedicated staff of Anera as they responded creatively to the needs of the many vulnerable communities in the region.
He would be as proud as I am that all of our family remains actively involved in support of Anera today. Our son Jim and daughters, Alicia and Victoria, grew up understanding and appreciating our heritage and our commitment to the Middle East. They also experienced firsthand our dedication to Anera’s mission and today, son Jim is on the Board, daughter Victoria is on the Education Committee and our granddaughter Claire was a summer intern, and in high school made and sold jewelry to raise money for Anera.
Jim and I have always viewed Anera as tenaciously optimistic, courageous and inspiring. Tenaciously optimistic in the pursuit of innovative ways for bettering the lives of those in need, courageous in working through the many periods of war and despair, and inspiring in its ability to instill hope in the thousands of lives touched by their work. How worthy of support.