Breaking Bread and Building Bridges

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Each month, Long Island Wins Executive Director Maryann Sinclair Slutsky publishes a column in the Anton Community Newspapers. Here’s the August column:

As the head of an organization with a commitment to diversity, the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was particularly dispiriting. For all the goodwill we see every day, it was a hard reminder that there’s still a lot of hate out there.

But I’ve also had the chance to see firsthand what some people are doing about hate and division. And sharing those lessons is always a good measure for helping hope triumph over despair.

I recently attended an interfaith dinner celebrating iftaar at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. For roughly one month each year, Muslims around the world fast from dawn to sundown in observance of Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection. Iftaar is the evening meal where Muslims break their daily fast, and people often gather at their local mosque to eat together. I received a gracious invitation even though I’m not Muslim.

Among the speakers that night was Sarah Khan, a 22-year-old Muslim from Roslyn, who took a trip to Israel earlier this year. As part of the trip, Sarah traveled to Jerusalem with four other Muslims and five Jews. Together, the group visited sites in and around the city, simultaneously exploring the challenges of identity and learning about each other’s culture and faith. While there were some conversations about politics and history, the real goal of the trip was to start discussions that would foster understanding. In a region where the divisions seem intractable, the effort to bridge the divide was truly breathtaking.

On the same day I heard Sarah speak, the news came down that a white supremacist gunman had gone on a killing spree at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a horrible reminder that there is still so much work to be done to heal the divisions in our communities and to tamp down extremism.

At my organization, Long Island Wins, we’re working to alleviate some of the tensions that can lead to acts of violence, as in the case of Wisconsin or Marcelo Lucero; or seemingly intractable conflicts, as in Israel. Our Welcoming Long Island initiative, with committees in Port Jefferson and Brentwood, gets neighbors talking to neighbors. Not necessarily about politics, but about shared values – the commonalities we all have as fellow Long Islanders, and as fellow human beings.

The success of the Welcoming Long Island initiative lies in promoting mutual respect and cooperation among all residents. At the iftaar dinner, faith leaders made a collective call to promote a deeper understanding of those who live in our communities and the faith traditions they follow. Only then can we break down barriers and build bridges to ensure communities built on respect and dignity that are safe for everyone. To learn more about how you can help transform your community email welcomingli@longislandwins.com.

Feature image from Sarah Ackerman, Flickr.


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