Breaking Bread and Creating Understanding in S. Jersey

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A Jewish high school French teacher in Camden who raised $40,000 to bring 21 of her students to Paris.

A Christian founder of the Center for Environmental Transformation, which has a 24-bed retreat facility for young adults, who is also the director of the ethics program at Villanova University.

A Muslim activist and businesswoman who works with refugees in South Jersey and helped clean up and repair Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Mark Doorley

These three speakers — Paula Saillard, Mark Doorley and Misha Alkiyal, respectively — will be featured as part of the Jewish Christian Muslim (JCM) Dialogue of Southern New Jersey’s annual Breaking Bread event on May 7 at 2 p.m. at Carman Tilelli Community Center.

The theme of the annual free event, co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey and the Cherry Hill Human Relations Advisory Committee, is “Hate Has No Home Here,” and it’s one the event’s co-chairs say is particularly timely.

The idea for it came after the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill was targeted in the string of called-in bomb threats nationwide.

“Within two hours of that threat, there was a phone chain and 200 demonstrators appeared at the Katz JCC from all faiths protesting that bomb threat,” recalled Kathy Kaplan, co-chair of the Breaking Bread event and of the JCM Dialogue.

Among the crowd was Chuck Cahn, the mayor of Cherry Hill, who approached members of the JCM Dialogue about the Hate Has No Home Here campaign in the city, as well as a video the police department created of the same name. Signs with the same message printed on it in different languages have been cropping up around the country.

Cahn will be at the May 7 event whose theme grew out of his discussion with JCM Dialogue members.

Misha Alkiyal

“What we love about it is the cohesiveness, and we’re hoping to bring our community together around this theme,” Kaplan said. “This is an era, it seems, when hate and bigotry are just crisscrossing the nation and sweeping the nation and unpleasant and rude dialogue seems to be almost given permission. We are trying to combat that in our own ways.”

Kaplan called this year’s speakers role models and hopes the event will enable people to see the good happening in their own communities.

“There is so much bad news that you almost don’t even want to look at the news,” Kaplan said. “These kinds of stories sometimes go unnoticed, so people don’t hear the good news. But you know something? Good news is going on all the time around us in our local areas, and it will give people a chance to hear something inspirational and uplifting.”

To her, the message of the event relates to two key ideas in Judaism: The first is Rabbi Akiva’s famous golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The second is the biblical imperative tzedek, tzedek tirdof — “justice, justice, you shall pursue.”

“What it means — it’s a very important concept in Judaism — by doing all these good deeds, whatever faith you are, you are pursuing justice so that people will have equity and equality,” she explained.

“It isn’t enough just to tolerate people, we all speak about tolerance — that’s not the best word. A better word is respect and another important word is justice so that everyone has equity and equality, and that’s justice.”

Farhat Bijivi, a founding member of JCM Dialogue and a member of the planning committee for the Breaking Bread event, said she is looking forward to bringing people together of different faiths and engaging in dialogue.

Paula Saillard with some of her students

“When strangers break bread together, they become friends, and that was our goal — to bring people together,” she said.

Like Kaplan, Bijivi pointed to the theme’s timeliness and noted how it has become especially poignant to her. “It’s … been resonating nationwide and it is something that is very important, because … I came to America in 1970 from India and in the 47 years that I have lived here, I haven’t seen the country so divided,” she said.

“So as a country, we have to come together.”

Discussing the topic through the lens of faith, especially three different ones, is particularly key in inviting dialogue, she said.

“This is what every faith preaches: That we should liberate ourselves from hate.

“When we have hate,” she added, “we are bound, we are enslaved to it, but when we let it go, we are liberated.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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