Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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2 immigrant business owners live American dream in Michigan

FENTON, Mich. - Like most Americans, Lebanese immigrants David and Anisse Jawhari wept when they saw the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center.

Out of respect, they closed their business, Beirut Restaurant and Grocery, for the day. In the following days, that gesture was returned in the kind and gentle reaction of their customers.

"People wanted to know if we were all right," said David Jawhari. The Jawharis said they felt that support of family and friends again when they recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A surprise party for them had to take a detour when August's tornado wrecked the Fenton Community Center the night before their celebration. It forced a last-minute move to a Grand Blanc hall, but 150 family members and friends attended.

It was another chapter in the story of a couple with hearts in two cultures who are living the quintessential American dream.

Born in Lebanon, Mr. Jawhari was not aware until he was being pushed to join the Army during the 1967 war with Israel that he had American citizenship through his father.

Jameel "Charly" Jawhari had left his family in Lebanon and had come to America, where he obtained his citizenship.

After his first wife died, Jameel, who had lived in the Cleveland area, returned to Lebanon and remarried, but his new wife would not come to the United States.

Because of rules at the time, Jameel eventually lost his American citizenship because he did not return to the United States.

"I remember my dad crying the day he got his letter that he was no longer a citizen," David Jawhari said.

What David Jawhari didn't know until 1967, when he had his own growing family, is that his citizenship obtained as a child remained intact.

"My dad told me a lot about America," David Jawhari said. "My dad made me love it."

It took about two years to gather the documentation and visas for his wife and three of his seven children, but the day for the trip to America finally came.

"It was April 13, 1969. It was a Friday," said Anisse Jawhari. "It was the best day of my life."

And also one of her toughest.

The couple left behind their four youngest children, all daughters, with David's mother in Lebanon.

"I cried every day," Anisse said.

The family settled with cousins in Holly, and David Jawhari got a job as a custodian.

"We didn't speak a word of English," Anisse said. Unfamiliar with American customs or finances, the couple looked for a house that matched the cash they had.

The home they sold in Lebanon was a "four-story, beautiful home," Anisse Jawhari said. The one they found in Holly for $9,000 in 1970 was not so beautiful. But David Jawhari gutted it, and Anisse cleaned it. When the rest of the children and David's mother arrived a few months later, it was small, but it was home.

The Jawharis had one bedroom, six girls shared another room, and son Sam, his grandmother, and another sister were lodged in the third.

On the day she was eligible to become an American citizen, Anisse brought along with her all the minor children - Ragheda "Rocky," Sam, Maheda, Fadia, Randa, Ghada, and Adiba, all born in Lebanon. Their youngest daughter, Diana, was their only child born in America.

With help from the Flint International Institute, Anisse Jawhari, who spoke Arabic and French, learned English.

In the mid-1970s, the Jawharis opened the Green Tree Restaurant in Linden, and David later took a job with a General Motors car hauler from which he eventually retired. Anisse Jawhari is retired from Sears.

Over the years, their children grew and succeeded. In all, David and Anisse Jawhari have 14 grandchildren, and a 15th is on the way.

One grandson, Steve Abaid, is a U.S. Marine, while a niece, Rocky Jawhari, is serving in Qatar in the U.S. Air Force.

"I've never had a doubt for one minute. I love it here," Anisse Jawhari said.

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