Montclair-based Syria Supper Club links refugees, residents
By LINDA MOSS
Last Sunday 25 people came to a Syria Supper Club dinner in Montclair, partaking of dishes such as hummus, tabouli, rice with lentils and coconut cake, all prepared by a Syrian refugee family.
The event’s host, Leslie Kunkin, was so affected by a Syria Supper Club dinner she attended in January that she decided to hold her own. The Syria Supper Club, created by two women who are members of the Bnai Keshet synagogue in Montclair, attempts to foster relationships between Syrian families in North Jersey and settled residents. The refugees prepare their native food for guests at the dinners, and everyone talks and shares stories about their experiences.
Attendees at the dinners contribute toward the cost of the meal and to support the Syrian family; the suggested donation is a minimum of $50 per person.
“Even aside from what’s going on in the administration, I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to really welcome people into a community,” Kunkin said. “I can’t imagine being dropped into a completely different culture and a completely different way of life without language and without the normal supports that society gives you. And then you add to it what they have to listen to, coming from the White House, unfortunately. I think it’s important for them to know that’s not the way the vast majority of us feel.”
The Syrian family at Kunkin’s dinner lives in Roselle, and Kunkin got a lot of positive feedback from those who attended the event, which she deemed a success.
“People loved it,” Kunkin said. “It brings up such a wellspring of emotions for people who are participating.”
At her dinner, Kunkin had all the guests introduce themselves and talk about where their families had originated; many of them had immigrant backgrounds. That helped give the Syrians an understanding that they weren’t the only ones who had been in their situation — foreigners in a new world — that “this is actually normal for our country,” according to Kunkin.
Resident Dawn Fried recently attended another Syria Supper Club dinner that was hosted in town.
“I just decided it was something I really wanted to do, to kind of break out of the little bit of despair that I was feeling...feeling like I could do something that was more positive and forward,” Fried said.
Her goal was to “turn the tide” after Trump’s many executive orders and appointments, said Fried, who also participated in the January Women’s March in Asbury Park. She said she wanted a way to continue her activism.
At the dinner that Fried attended, a Syrian couple, now living in Union County, cooked and talked about their immigrant experiences.
She said she left the meal with a better understanding of what those refugees had gone through once they arrived, and that the Syria Supper Club puts “real faces on the people who we know are struggling and trying to make their way.”
Said Fried, “It was a great experience to make a connection and just relate to one another over food, over a meal. So much falls away in terms of differences between people when you’re at a table together and sharing food and conversation. And even though they had to speak though interpreters, still, you’re looking at one other and you’re really having that more heart-centered, heartfelt connection.”