May 27, 1999
Barbara Creme was exhausted. It was nearly 1 a.m. on Friday, Shavuot, and instead of being at home asleep or studying at a tikkun, the director of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance's Jewish Community Relations Committee was laying out tablecloths at the Bernard Milken Campus. For the previous three days, she and most of the Valley Alliance staff had been on the phones, preparing for the arrival of Kosovo refugees from Macedonia, the first to land in Southern California. Now, after a day of false starts and delays, the last half of the group of 28 was about to arrive at Milken to be settled with their host families.
The bus pulled into the circular driveway, and 14 dazed, bone-weary men, women and children disembarked, accompanied by Ken Warner, campaign chair for the Valley Alliance. They filed quietly into the auditorium, where deli and fruit platters lay waiting. Happy to take advantage of a few moment's rest out of the glare of the television lights that had greeted them at the airport, the adults smiled gratefully as their hosts brought them steaming mugs of coffee. The children were surprisingly alert but shy, although the teen-agers, some of whom understood a little English, cheerfully struggled to answer a reporter's questions.
What finally got to everyone was the luggage -- or what was passing for it. The Americans stared with shock and grief at the seven small duffel bags, single backpack and two nearly empty plastic shopping bags gathered near the tables where the 14 refugees sat. The pitiful pile underscored the Vlashi family's plight; they fled Kosovo with little more than the clothes on their backs. It could have been Germany circa 1939 all over again.