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This article, by columnist Clem Richardson appeared in the Daily News on Friday, February 15, 2008.


Dr. Ahmad Jaber is driven by his past.

His father died when he was 2 years old, leaving his mother, Wuafia, to raise him and four siblings in Palestine's West Bank.

This was 1949. Though illiterate, his mother chose to go it alone, painting houses and bartering whatever goods she had for the things she needed rather than follow tradition and marry one of her late husband's male relatives.

"People told her, 'Tomorrow you will see. No one will help you, your kids will go to their relatives and you will be left alone,'" Jaber recalled. "She said [to me], 'Tomorrow you will see. They will call me the mother of the future.'

"Now they call her the mother of a doctor," Jaber said.

His mother's courage and his own dependence on scholarships and government grants to complete his schooling left Jaber, now a senior attending physician in the obstetrics/gynecology department at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, consumed by a need to do for those with less than he.

"It was born in me that I had to help those in need," Jaber said. "Some people might deny their origins, might become accomplished and forget they came from a struggling family. I cannot."

A graduate of the University of Mosul in Iraq, Jaber immigrated to the U.S. in 1974 to do a residency at Queen's Flushing Hospital Medical Center.

At Lutheran since 1978, Jaber said he has delivered more than 5,000 babies in his career.

"All the time people come up to me with their children and say, 'This is the man who brought you into the world.'"

Jaber is even more active outside the delivery room.

He is a founding member of the New York chapter of the Arab American Medical Association and sits on the board of directors of the American Muslim Mission in downtown Brooklyn; of St. Nicholas House, a retirement home in Bay Ridge, and of the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association, an interfaith group.

Jaber also is co-founder, with Drs. Basemah Atweh, Hicham El-Anmati and Suhad Kazma, of the Arab American Association of New York, a group that operates out of Jaber's Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, office.

The Arab American Association, which last year won a prestigious Union Square Award for its work in the community, was created in May 2001 to help Brooklyn's 122,000-member, diverse Arab population - which include Syrians, Lebanese, Moroccans, Egyptians, Yemenites, Palestinians and many other nationalities - find badly needed social services.

"We found there was a problem in the community with domestic violence, English as a Second Language instruction and other issues, and felt this was a way to address those problems," Jaber said.

Then 9/11 happened, and Arabs in the city suddenly found themselves under suspicion, scrutinized by everyone from their neighbors to local and federal police.

The association quickly shifted focus.

"Instead of social services, we had to move into empowering the community, defending the community and supporting the community," Jaber said. "It was not easy. We had to prove ourselves as Americans, show that we do care, that we are part of the community and had nothing to do with what happened.

"The choice was either we hide or stand up for our rights. So, as good citizens, we decided it's time for us to stand for our rights."

Association members and an interfaith group organized a candlelight memorial march through Bay Ridge honoring the Sept. 11 victims.

The association became a liaison between the police and residents, charting complaints of harassment, detainment and hate crimes against Arabs and helping police and city officials deal with Arab community members.

Foreign and national press, as well as Arab organizations from across the country and world, often made the Arab American Association the first contact for word on the local Arab community, Jaber said. The group put out one constant message - local Arab-Americans were as devastated by the World Trade Center attacks as the rest of America.

"That response was crucial for two reasons," Jaber said. "One, it let our neighbors who are American know we were supporting them and we were as affected as they were. Also, it sent a message to our community, our people, not to be afraid if you are law-abiding citizens in good standing in the community. That gave support to the community itself."

Years later, the Arab American Association is still dealing with Sept. 11-related issues, chief among them the detainment or deportation of people who, though not citizens themselves, leave American-born children with no family to support them.

The Arab American Association, staffed entirely by volunteers, helps families get legal and social services as well as job placement, citizenship and English as a Second Language classes, and access to an HMO. The group also offers traditional dance classes for American-born children unfamiliar with their heritage. Jaber said the group also acts as a bridge between older, established Arab-Americans and more recent immigrants.

"You can imagine that [the established groups'] concern is they want to take care of their elderly," Jaber said. "Our concern is we want to take care of our kids."

Jaber and his wife, Jovita, a pediatrician, have four adult children: daughter Reem and sons Ramee, Ranee and Omar.

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