Muslim Brothers — In Boston And Westport

When word spread that the Boston Marathon bombers were Muslim brothers, Americans tried to understand why.

We still don’t have answers. But one man who is particularly perplexed also provides special insight.

Kenan Trebincevic today.

Kenan Trebincevic today.

Kenan Trebincevic’s life is similar in some ways to Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s. He and his brother were born 6 years apart. They’re “foreign-born-and-named, athletic, Islamic brothers from difficult backgrounds in Eastern Europe,” where they were persecuted before finding refuge in the United States.

Yet while the Tsarnaevs ended up in the Boston area — a true melting pot — Kenan’s family spent many years in Westport. Our town has very few Muslims — from any part of the world — but it offered a safe haven for the Trebincevics.

Kenan — now a physical therapist in Queens, and the co-author of a book, The Bosnia List, to be published next year — described his growing-up experiences here in a fascinating op-ed piece published in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

In “Two Muslim Brothers Who Took the Assimilation Path,” Kenan said his family — “caught in the bloody war between Bosnia and Serbia” — moved to Westport in 1993.

His father, Senahid, “slung poultry at a fast-food chicken place and took other low-paying jobs.” His mother, Adisa, babysat and did data processing. There was little money, “and it was hard to get jobs without connections or language skills.”

Yet unlike the Tsarnaev boys, Kenan said “my brother and I made many friends in the U.S. and wound up on the more successful side of the American dream.” Although he felt “lost, estranged and resentful” as a 13-year-old newcomer to America, his life took a different path.

Interfaith CouncilOne reason was that — while he and his family remained proud of their heritage — they had an anchor here. They were sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, which he called “a group of liberal churches and synagogues.”

Kenan wrote:

When we arrived in 1993 at JFK airport, we were met by the Rev. Don Hodges, a Methodist minister. He drove us to his Westport home, where we stayed for 4 months. It’s not surprising or wrong for immigrants to deepen their focus on religion in a strange land. But I would speculate that in our case we felt such gratitude to the people of differing faiths who helped us that our chances of assimilating, and succeeding, in America were enhanced.

Westport taught an important lesson in multi-cultural living.

When my mother found a lump in her breast, the late surgeon Dr. Malcolm Beinfeld at Norwalk Hospital operated on her. Dr. Beinfeld, who was Jewish, told us that the Bosnian genocide against Muslims reminded him of the Holocaust. We never received a bill for the surgery or for my mother’s subsequent radiation and chemotherapy.

Dr. Malcolm Beinfield

Dr. Malcolm Beinfield

A Protestant [sic — he was Jewish] dentist, Richard Sands, asked my mother: “What does your son need?” At 13, I was taken to an orthodontist who gave me braces and took care of me for two years. I was embarrassed but deeply grateful that he never asked for a dime.

On my first day of school in Westport, Dr. Glenn Hightower, the principal, and a member of Mr. Hodges’s church, introduced me to the 7th-grade English class with his arm draped around my shoulders. He explained that my family had been exiled in the Bosnian war, and he asked the other students to help me out.

I had a foreign name, strange accent and could barely speak the language. I felt scared and pathetic, like a mutt waiting to be adopted. I was immediately befriended by Miguel Peman, a Catholic Spanish-American student, who offered me a seat.

In the middle 1990s, Bedford Middle School (now the site of Saugatuck Elementary) was a warm, welcoming place for Kenan Trebincevic.

In the middle 1990s, Bedford Middle School (now the site of Saugatuck Elementary) was a warm, welcoming place for Kenan Trebincevic.

When the school-bus driver who drove me home noticed that I had a long walk to Mr. Hodges’s house, he introduced himself as Offir, from Israel, and dropped me off right at the driveway, making me promise not to tell anyone. Later, my Greek Orthodox soccer coach, Ted Popadoupolis, gave me rides to practices and games when my parents couldn’t.

Kenan and his brother did not try to become Olympic stars, like Tamerlan wanted. But, Kenan said, “a series of teachers and mentors helped us formulate a realistic career plan. They geared us toward a more feasible field than sports stardom: physical therapy.”

Kenan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal concluded:

It is impossible to know what went on in someone else’s childhood or what is happening in another’s mind or heart. The Tsarnaevs took one path. My brother and I, despite our family’s war displacement, persecution and years of poverty, thrived — but only with stable parents by our side, good jobs and help from many and diverse guardian angels. During a dark week, it was easy to forget that countless immigrants to America have similar stories to tell.

And it’s easy, too, to forget — if we ever knew — that some of those stories take root right here in Westport. We’re thousands of miles from places like Serbia, but to boys like Kenan Trebincevic, we can become home.

22 responses to “Muslim Brothers — In Boston And Westport

  1. John McCarthy

    Fantastic story. Thanks Dan

  2. This is a wonderful story

  3. A great inspirational story to start the day!


    Dan, once again I’m grateful for your contribution as an articulate, compassionate provider of information and the forum through which we may connect the dots in our community. This is a powerful piece. Thanks.

  5. Great piece!

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Inspiring.

  7. Truly inspiring!

  8. Than you, Dan-heartwarming.

  9. Bart Shuldman

    Great story but I have a question. Maybe I am wrong but why don’t we see more Muslim clergy coming out ‘screaming’ against the violence? Why is there no Muslim march on Washington supporting the US and showing their concern against this horrible violence?

    Again. Great story. It is great to know he got to experience the real America.

    • Excellent question, Bart. In fact, I have seen a few (brief and buried) stories about Muslim clergy denouncing the violence. I don’t know why those stories were not given more attention or prominence.

      As for the march on Washington, I can hardly speak for the Muslim community. I’m guessing there are concerns about backlash, and drawing more attention to religion and inflaming the entire story.

  10. Kerstin Warner

    This story is touching and insightful. I know some of the folks mentioned, and I smiled, because I have seen these gestures of kindness, welcome, and support in action. Thank you for bringing this perspective to your readers, Dan.

  11. Thanks, Dan. I am lucky enough to know Kenan through Miguel Peman and his family of “guardian angels”. Great illustration of the positive impact one can have by just being a good kid and offering someone a “seat” and becoming his friend. I’m looking forward to reading Kenen’s book

  12. Jo Ann Davidson

    I remember that there were lots of volunteers who helped this family. Ellie Lowenstein used to drive Mom and boys places because they didn’t have a car. It’s good to be reminded that kindness really pays.
    Jo Ann Davidson

  13. Brett Aronow

    Very inspiring story Dan. It is great to realize how what seems like even small things you can do to help your neighbors can make a large difference in their lives. A very good lesson for our children.

  14. Excellent piece. Anyone know how to get a copy of the WSJ link above if you are not a subscriber to it?

  15. Dan, your story embraces subject we all need to be reminded of.
    We tend to take for granted what others only dream of

  16. jonosbookreviews

    Thanks, Dan for this wonderful post. You have to believe there are thousands of other families like the Trebincevic’s doing just as well in other towns just like Westport all around the country. Those pundits calling for limits on Muslim immigration, etc. should read this and know that those maniacs from Boston are the exceptionally rare exceptions to this rule.

    • THANKS, Jonosbookreviews — aka Jono Walker. You may have missed the announcement, but all commenters are required to sign in with their real names now. I appreciate your comments!

  17. Excellent article and a good reminder of our diversity here in Westport. Plus a great shout out to Dr. Beinfield, who stitched me up numerous times while growing up here. Great guy and the best of ole Westport.

  18. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Acts of kindness are the glue that connect individuals in a community. Thank you for using your writing skill to make Westport a tighter town.

  19. Carla Schine

    Like so many other communities Westport has its strengths and weaknesses, but our ability to be welcoming is a special asset that I hope we will maintain for a good long time.