How Potluck for Peace builds bridges between people of different faiths

 
Posted9/11/2018 6:00 AM
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  • The Rev. Corey Brost, left, exchanges greetings with Moulana Mehboob Mehdi of the Islamic Education Center in Glendale Heights during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

      The Rev. Corey Brost, left, exchanges greetings with Moulana Mehboob Mehdi of the Islamic Education Center in Glendale Heights during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Moulana Mehboob Mehdi of the Islamic Education Center in Glendale Heights speaks during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

      Moulana Mehboob Mehdi of the Islamic Education Center in Glendale Heights speaks during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Rabbi Stephen Hart of Temple Chai in Long Grove speaks during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

      Rabbi Stephen Hart of Temple Chai in Long Grove speaks during the Children of Abraham Coalition's seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Children of Abraham Coalition held its seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

      The Children of Abraham Coalition held its seventh annual 9/11 Potluck For Peace dinner last week at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Salaam, Shalom, Peace.

That blessing opened last week's Potluck for Peace dinner, which drew families from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions -- more than 200 people in all -- to St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

Right from the outset, the instructions were simple: Sit at a table that includes someone from a different religion than yours, and introduce yourself.

From there, the conversations -- and stories -- flowed naturally.

"It's the stories that connect us," said Shaheen Khan of Wheeling. "If I hear someone's story, that resonates with me."

The Rev. Corey Brost, a Viatorian priest, helped to form the group Children of Abraham with Khan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as a way to advance interfaith dialogue among teens and their families, and build bridges between religions.

"We can't stop all the religious-based hate in the world, but we can do our part," Brost says. "We can be people of peace in our corner of the world, especially on Sept. 11, a day that showed how deadly religious hate can be."

The group's signature event for the last seven years has been this potluck dinner, designed to breakdown barriers over a meal. The dinner always takes place near the anniversary of 9/11 and offers guests a positive way to fight religious-based hatred.

"What impacted me the first time I came is that you're able to sit with a complete stranger and you connect with them," said Sarah McDermott of Park Ridge, who now serves on the board of the coalition. "People can be so different, but you don't have to focus on that. You share a meal together and find out just how much you have in common."

Barrington High School senior Haider Ali found himself to be one of the only Muslims sitting at his table. When asked to describe what he does on the Children of Abraham Coalition board, Haider described working to host the first Peace Camp that brought children of different faith backgrounds together.

Although he admits his mother convinced him to participate, he now says he enjoys spending time with teens of different backgrounds.

"We're really working to spread the interfaith message," Haider said. "It's interesting to see how other people react. I'm enjoying it."

Rabbi Stephen Hart of Temple Chai in Long Grove said such interfaith understanding is needed now more than ever.

"In this environment that we are experiencing, it's so important to be a bridge of understanding, and to foster cooperation and mutual respect as we work to break down religious stereotypes," Hart said.

"Dialogue and learning about one another," he added, "like we're doing here tonight, is the way to build bridges of respect toward one another's religions."

The potluck drew many adults from Jewish temples in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove, as well as Islamic centers in Schaumburg and Glendale Heights, the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine and Christian churches in the Northwest suburbs.

Jim Dippold, a campus minister from Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan, brought 11 students to the dinner.

"They're interested in learning more about interfaith dialogue," Dippold said, "and having cross-cultural experiences."

Maxine Sukenik of Lincolnshire has attended nearly all of the potluck dinners and helped start a spinoff group, Daughters of Abraham, made up of women wishing to learn more about different faiths.

"This is my playground, my joyful place," Sukenik said as she looked around at all the people talking across their tables. "This room is filled with so much love."

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