What Ted Kennedy gave to me

Ted Kennedy will rightly be remembered by generations of Americans for the values he espoused, and his legislative accomplishments which translated those values into action.

I have a number of memories of the Senator, but one, in particular, will remain with me forever.

In the horrifying days after 9/11, I received death threats from a few wretched souls who assumed that, because of my Arab ancestry and advocacy, I shared responsibility for the terrorist attacks on our country. All this created a double trauma for me, my staff and family. We were Americans and our nation had been attacked. We, too, wanted to grieve, but were pulled away from our grief by these threats and told, in effect, "you are not part of us".

We reported these calls and received police protection. And then, out of the blue, came a different kind of call. I answered and heard a voice so instantly recognizable. It was the Senator calling to tell me of his concern for me and my family and to offer his support. It was an act of grace: spontaneous, uplifting and undeserved. Shortly thereafter, I received calls from other Senators also expressing the same concern and offering the same support (I didn’t know then, but discovered later, that it was Senator Kennedy who had urged them to call).

A few days later, Kennedy invited a large group of Arab American leaders to his Senate office to discuss the problem of hate crimes and a range of civil liberties concerns. We left the meeting feeling more secure.

And so I will remember Ted Kennedy, not only for what he has given to our nation, but what, in the most trying of times, he gave to me and my community–a restored sense of belonging.