"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." – James Beard
On Monday, October 29, the Syria Supper Club will look to build bridges at Seton Hall University through the breaking of bread. All are welcome for an unforgettable evening, featuring a free meal prepared by local, recently resettled Syrian refugees. Attendees will get to hear from a variety of speakers and learn about the worldwide refugee crisis and how each of us can make a difference. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the University Center Main Lounge.
The Syria Supper Club consists of Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq who join groups of mostly Jewish New Jerseyans for dinners that are part fundraiser, part cultural exchange. Women from the refugee families cook the elaborate feasts; the Americans host the meals.
Widian Nicola, assistant professor of graduate social work at Seton Hall, is part of a planning committee consisting of Mark Maben, WSOU general manager; Golbarg Rekabtalaei, assistant professor of history; and Youssef Yacoubi, assistant professor and director of the Arabic Studies Program.
"Our hope for the event is that, first and foremost, we create a space for dialogue, connection, and inclusion for refugees in our community," says Nicola. "Second, that we educate our Seton Hall community on the relevant and pressing global refugee crisis plaguing our world. And third, as agents of change, that we empower our community to respond locally to this global issue."
Often there is no more effective way to motivate others to take action than to hear from those who have experienced firsthand the hardships that so desperately need to be acted upon. Slated to speak at the event is a refugee named Abdul Alargha, who grew up in Syria and was a successful businessman in Damascus. After starting a nonprofit to help women and children who were widowed and orphaned during the war in Syria, he became a target of the Assad regime and was forced to flee the country immediately, leaving the majority of his possessions behind. His wife Rana fled separately with their three children. They were separated and, at times, homeless for about two years while moving through the Middle East as refugees, trying to make their way to the United States. He was eventually granted asylum in the United States, and the family was reunited and ultimately settled in Montclair.
These are the types of stories that had prompted Peter Shoemaker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to commission a group of faculty from various disciplines within the College to begin a discussion on immigration and refugee issues. Known from then on as the dean's Immigration and Refugee Task Force, they brainstormed ways to engage the Seton Hall community on these matters. According to Nicola, several faculty had an unrelated connection to the Syria Supper Club and agreed it would be a worthwhile event to host at the University. "Likewise, Mark Maben was in the early stages of planning the same event, and a natural partnership developed," she recalls.
Since those initial discussions, a number of University schools, institutes and departments have joined in as co-sponsors of the event, including WSOU; the University Core; the School of Diplomacy and International Relations; the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Sciences; the Department of History; the Center for Vocation and Servant Leadership; the International Programs Office; the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work; the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures; the Department of Political Science; and the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute.
Nicola is proud and honored to be a part of such an important initiative, whose effects will reach well beyond the campus gates. "When we create a space for dialogue and connection with recently resettled refugees in our community, we reiterate our University's mission of inclusion. Further, we shift the narrative from stranger to friend."