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Table Talks Journal

Go to Day One

July 18, That’s Life

Due to unexpected circumstances, Nareen and I weren’t able to meet for Table Talks today. Totally bummed but the good news is, it wasn’t because we were kicked out!  It was just one of those life got in the way things.

Sorry to disappoint, but we’ll be back again NEXT week. Check us out on Facebook or FOLLOW us so you’ll never miss an update.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from our recent JAM women’s group. (JAM stands for Jewish and Muslim.) We meet once a month and, if you want to be a part of our group in Connecticut, email me.

July JAM in Connecticut living room

 

July 11, Danbury or Bust

What a terrific visit with Nareen and her son, Rayyan today!

We journeyed back to the Danbury Mall, this time sans signs and with no advertising. Nareen brought bright orange balloons, which we knew were perfectly acceptable for anyone in the mall and particularly for folks sitting in the food court! And we had a grand time.

For a number of reasons I wanted to return to the first site of Table Talks and, low and behold, someone who visited us several months ago, stopped by to say hello. We also had a lovely chat with our friend, Nicole, from Chick-fil-A where they were honoring Cow Appreciation Day. Who knew?!?! And Yehezkel rounded out the entourage, engaging in a deep conversation about Israel-Palestine with a guest. So all-in-all we had a jolly stay in front of the children’s play area with its magnificent carousel.

We’re going to try something new with Table Talks next week: Table Talks On The Move. Each week we’ll pick a new location to meet people and test out different opportunities for conversation. We expect to be in Watertown, CT next Tuesday. But LIKE our Facebook page in case we change our minds about the venue!

Have a good week. And we’ll see you soon!

Rayyan and Nareen enjoying some Table Talk of their own.

 

June 27, Don’t Get No Respect

My daughter, Abbey, and granddaughter, Penny, are visiting from California this week and came with me to Table Talks. We met Nareen at 10:30 instead of our usual time, thinking we might find more people having coffee in the morning than eating lunch at noon.

There were, in fact, several tables of older men. Retirees, I’d say. We invited them to join us, but they declined. And a group of walkers–people not equipment–parading in front of us. Walker Cheryl asked us, “What do you think about the state of the world today?” which led us to a conversation about building understanding and finding commonality. She was lovely but, truth be told, as great as it is to talk to people like this, I’d really rather talk to those who…well, those who would rather not talk to us!

After Cheryl, we were joined by Ms. Pimentel in her spiffy Brass Mill Waterbury Mall security uniform. “You can’t be here,” were her opening words, although I have to admit she was very nice about it. “You can’t have signs,” she said. Again with the signs! And she said if we had questions about her directive, we could talk to the mall managers who’d be out of a meeting at 12:30.

Nareen and I had already decided to try another location next time, so our displacement from our second food court did not present a logistical challenge. But I’m curious and still await word from the ACLU as  to whether or not we’re legally allowed to be in the mall.

Penny had a grand time running around the food court and smiling at strangers. Oh if we could all have that trust and exuberance.

Have a great Fourth of July holiday and we’ll see you on the 11th!

Abbey, Penny and Nareen enjoying pre-Fourth of July Table Talks

Penny Feeling the Vibe of Table Talks

June 20, A Not Normal Tuesday

We’re not holding Table Talks today. Nareen is escorting Khawla to the airport for a teary goodbye, and our other sisters are still in the midst of the irregular routine that Ramadan brings. I’m grateful for the chance to have spent a Table Talks afternoon with Khawla, Nareen’s mother-in-law, and wish her a safe return home.

We also welcome the arrival of Haneen Zahra, Zina’s new daughter. Mazel tov to Zina, Hassan and their beautiful family!

Next Tuesday we’ll return to our normal Table Talks schedule.

But can anything really be normal in light of the heartbreaking events of the past week? The London terror attack on Muslims coming from prayer and the brutal murder of Nabra Hassanen tear our hearts and confound our brains. These horrific crimes challenge us to maintain a space for compassion and kindness. Let us remember her name: NABRA HASSANEN. In Nabra’s memory may we all increase our commitment to warmly engage The Other, whoever that might be. If you see a woman or girl in a hijab, smile. Say hello, even in passing. If she’s alone, and you’re comfortable and it’s appropriate, ask if she’d like company walking to her car. She’ll probably decline. But maybe she won’t. And if she doesn’t accept your offer, she will still have met someone who tried to understand what it was like to be a Muslim in today’s world. And maybe take some comfort in that.

With the end of Ramadan this weekend, I wish all my Muslim sisters and brothers a Happy Eid [the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.]  I pray that your fasts were well received by Allah and that your prayers of petition were heard by God.

In the name of peace.

Nareen’s mother-in-law, Khawla

June 13, We’re Ba-a-a-a-ck

After a short hiatus (Ramadan and life events!), Nareen and I returned to our usual table in the Waterbury Mall today. We spent the first few minutes rehashing the anti-anti-Sharia rally we attended in Waterbury over the weekend. Counter-protesters outnumbered the original demonstrators at least 2:1. Good showing of support for our local Muslim brothers and sisters. Too bad the rally was even necessary.

(BTW, even though I offered to change the location of today’s Table Talks because it’s Ramadan and Nareen would be fasting–did she really need to be sitting in a food court!–Nareen insisted we take up our same spot.)

Two visitors joined us today. First Fuad, a friend of Nareen’s and the nephew of the weekend’s rally coordinator, and Leora, a local college student interested in creating dialogue circles in her community. It was exciting hear Leora’s hopes for connecting disparate groups. Mostly she was concerned about the communication gap between Democrats and Republicans! So we talked a lot about what those differences might be and how to find commonality not through political conversations but through areas of mutual interest. She left with a terrific project idea that we hope she’ll be able to bring to fruition next year.

As Leora was leaving, she paused with a request to talk about Israel and Palestine! I gave her a copy of How to Talk to Just About Anyone About Israel-Palestine and invited her back next week to continue the conversation. Stay tuned.

Ramadan Mubarak to all those continuing the observance.

Talking about how to create community dialogue.

Fuad, Leora, Nareen and me kicking back and talking about what matters.

May 30, No Table Talks Today — It’s Shavuot!

Today is the fourth day of Ramadan and tonight is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. So we’re holding off on Table Talks and reflecting, instead, on these two holy times.

Except I don’t fully understand Shavuot. More than any other Jewish holiday, Shavuot is an enigma.

Shavuot was and still is a holiday that coincides with an American Jewish child’s confirmation. That means synagogues often mark the end of a child’s formal religious (or Sunday school) education around Shavuot. It’s ironic that most confirmands outside private Jewish day schools don’t understand Shavuot either. I think that’s because 1) confirmation occurs when a child is about 15 years old, and there are more things on a student’s mind than Jewish holidays, and 2) Shavuot is confusing.

At its core Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah to Moses (and the Israelites, who we now call Jews) at Mt. Sinai. We mark the occasion by studying Jewish texts, often the Book of Ruth, from sundown to sunrise. Yes, for some folks, Shavuot is an all-nighter. And we do the studying with coffee and cheesecake. Yes, cheesecake. If you ask someone, “Why cheesecake?” they’ll tell you it’s customary to eat dairy on Shavuot. If you ask, “Why dairy?” you’ll be handed a piece of cheesecake to keep your mouth full so you can’t ask any more questions. While there’s no single definitive explanation for why we eat dairy, a quick Google search will give you a myriad of articles entitled Why Jews Eat Cheesecake on Shavuot.

I think we just like cheesecake.

Shavuot is also a harvest festival. There’s an agricultural calculus around Shavuot pertaining to barley harvesting. Shavuot is 50 days after the second day of Passover. We’ve been counting the days leading up to Shavuot for the past seven weeks. That’s called counting the omer, omer meaning sheaf. That’s a sheaf of barley. That we count. Until it’s Shavuot. Sort of like Advent at Christmas. But without the chocolate.

And if that’s not enough to baffle, Shavuot is also called Shavuos. That would be sha-voo-oat with emphasis on the OAT and sha-voo-us with emphasis on the VOO. That difference is based on the background of the Jew. Are they an Eastern European Jew? Or are they a Jew from East L.A? Well, that’s not exactly true. Mostly you’ll find older Jews saying VOO more often than younger Jews.

Torah. Barley. Cheesecake.

On a final note, this year the observances of Shavuot and Ramadan coincide. And there are interesting corollaries to be found. Ramadan and Shavuot are both about revelation of Jewish and Islamic holy scriptures: the Torah to Moses and the Qu’ran to Muhammad (pbuh.) To find out about how the calendars connect, click here.

So we have a holiday pronounced in different ways that’s connected to religious school graduation, scriptural study, barley, Torah, and, of course, cheesecake.

What’s not to understand?

Tuesday, May 23, Ramadan, Jewish Grandmas and Sex

With three balloons stuffed in the boot of my car, I was headed to the Waterbury Mall when Nareen texted me that she was sick. Overly apologetic–I mean, who can predict illness–Nareen had been battling a bug for a while. With Eman still away, Zina VERY pregnant, our visits to Waterbury still in their infancy, and little time to find another sister, my neighbor’s little boy was about to receive a surprise bouquet of shiny red balloons. Fate was telling me to regroup.

So while there was no Table Talks today, I’d like to tell you about something that happened a few days ago at our monthly gathering of Jewish and Muslim women.

It was a small group this month. So many wonderful celebrations in the community and in our sisters’ lives! Graduations. Family parties. Spring activities. Only 12 of us made it to to the mosque on Sunday. But what we lacked in quantity we made up for in enthusiasm.

With an age range of thirty-something to Medicare-and-then-some, our group normally meets in each others homes. But since often our group exceeds 20 women (and it’s growing!), we’ve moved our monthly get-togethers to larger venues. Since our April program on Passover was held in a synagogue, we decided to host our May program on Ramadan in a mosque.

Gathered in a comfortable circle in the masjid’s classroom, we listened to Zina and other sisters tell us about Ramadan–the history, Quranic references, traditional observances, and family customs. Since the Muslim women in our group have family roots in many countries, their stories were fascinating. The sharing was heart-felt and personal and got to the core and the spirit of the holiday. It was one of the best explanations of Ramadan I’ve ever heard. What a gift to be a part of this community!

Of course a major part of our discussion focused on the 30-days of fasting. Unlike the Jewish tradition of fasting from sundown to sundown, Ramadan fasts are from sunrise to sunset. The Jewish women peppered their Muslim sisters with questions, acknowledging the resolve needed for this 30-day commitment, drawing comparisons to and recognizing differences from Jewish fasts.

At one point in her talk, Zina said that not only were food and water prohibited during Ramadan but physical intimacy with one’s spouse was also prohibited. Barely were the words out of Zina’s mouth, when Barbara, the octogenarian in our group, shouted, “What? No sex for 30 days!” She was incredulous!

Barbara’s outburst was met with five seconds of stunned silence and then hysterical laughter. When we’d picked ourselves up from the floor and regained our composure, Zina pointed out that, no, the restriction didn’t mean “no sex for 30 days.” It meant no intimacy during daytime fast hours.

Sunday gathering at the mosque

Not only did our Jewish sisters learn a lot about Ramadan that day, I think our Muslim sisters had a good lesson in the spunkiness of older Jewish women!

 

Tuesday, May 16, A Visitor’s Observations of a Food Court

Eman is still in Jordan. Our hearts are with you, Eman, and we look forward to your safe return the beginning of next month.

Another session today in the Waterbury Mall with signs, balloons, and Nareen–Nareen who brought her mother-in-law, Khawla, to join us today. What a hoot! Khawla is Palestinian and is also from Jordan. We had many chuckles at our table observing the passers-by through Khawla’s eyes and limited English. When a particularly gangsta-looking young man walked by, Khawla said in Arabic under her breath, “Pull up your pants.” I thought my sides would burst! And when Khawla noticed we weren’t having too many visitors, she volunteered that people in the food court were too busy stuffing their faces (those were her exact words) or going to the restroom (!) to stop and chat with us.

Khawla was right in that it was a quiet day. A few folks returned our greetings and stopped to inquire about our table. But mostly we giggled our way through the afternoon through Nareen’s translations. Oh, and Khawla taught me a new word in Arabic: afwan, which means “you are welcome.” Now that I think about it, Kwala said “afwan” to me when she sat down at our table. I thought I detected a twinkle in her eye… 🙂

Congratulations to Nareen on her commencement and on receiving her social work degree this weekend. I’m honored to call you Sister. 🙂

Khawla and Nareen

Thursday, May 11, A New Home

A new adventure!  Our first day at the Brass Mill Mall in Waterbury, CT!

Nareen and I met at noon. Red balloons and signs back on the tables!

The food court is spacious and bright. But I miss Rich and Nicole, our Chick-Fil-A friends. Perhaps we’ll find other food court supporters in this new location.

Waterbury shoppers seemed more receptive to our hellos than we’d seen lately in Danbury. It was as if our signs provided an acceptable pretext for greeting shoppers—more so here than in Danbury. Many people nodded, returning our greetings. One older gentleman stopped to see what we were doing. I wonder why table signs are needed to say hello to total strangers. I mean, if we didn’t have signs, it would be quite odd to sit in a food court and say hello to folks passing by. Why is that?

We had a full Abrahamic complement when Laurie, a Roman Catholic, and her husband Khalid stopped to chat. Our conversation spanned Jewish-Muslim relations, Israel-Palestine, and the Golden Calf! And I made a new friend when Nareen recognized her classmate, Vismel, getting lunch. He asked about our experiences and shared his views as an atheist.

All-in-all our experience was very positive. I think we’ll enjoy being in Waterbury!

Late in the day I had a voice message from Maura at the Danbury Fair Mall. As I predicted, they can’t lease us cart-space or find any way for us to continue our conversations in their mall. But maybe we’ll be able to accept their offer to do an event sometime this year.

I expect great things from Waterbury. See you there next TUESDAY!

Our second home.

Me and Nareen in animated conversation. Well, I’M animated!

Nareen and me chatting about the Golden Calf with Khalid.

Tuesday, May 9, “And scene…”

“Hello, this is Maura.” And with that phone call we begin planning for the final days of Table Talks at the Danbury Fair Mall.

With Eman still in Jordan [our thoughts are with you, my sister], I went to our usual spot in the food court at noon. Red balloons? Check. Plexiglass flyers sans plexiglass holders? Check.

Since this was the the first time Nareen and I met, we broke the ice with chit-chat about our children. It turns out that Nareen is the same age as my youngest son, Andrew. Such a difference in our chronological ages. Such commonality in our dialogue goals.

Yehezkel brought us coffee. A very pregnant Zina joined us.

And providence brought the return of the mall management.

Since the mall folks had not stopped by our table since their initial visit three weeks ago, and since they had offered no reply to my email, we had assumed that our compliance with their “no signage” request had been met satisfactorily.

But that was not the case.

Maura Ruby and Melissa Eigen explained that they’d spent the past weeks trying to find a way to allow us to continue our weekly Table Talks. But they couldn’t. So we couldn’t.

Among other violations, our paper flyers still counted as signage. Any advertising constituted promoting an event that had not been, and would not be, sanctioned by the mall. My offer to remove all flyers and My Brother From Another Mother identification was rebuffed with their admonition that even talking about Table Talks on social media and in this online Table Talks journal represented a solicitation of their customers. We could not virtually-invite the public to meet us at the mall, because that was soliciting their customers. There was so much talk about illicit solicitation that I began to feel I’d joined the ranks of the world’s oldest profession.

Truth is, as much as we experience malls as public places, they are, in fact, private spaces. Inviting nameless blog followers, anonymous bulletin board scanners, and pretty much anyone and everyone anywhere to come to the food court for coffee and conversation is a hospitality bridge too wide for mall owners and their lawyers to cross.

Their house. Their rules.

Precedent setting seemed also to be of great concern. If they let us invite people into a dialogue of respect and understanding, what’s to prevent others from wanting to do the same?

What, indeed.

Maura’s phone call delivered the news that it would not be possible to lease a table in the food court, which I had inquired about a few hours earlier. And I doubt that our inquiry about leasing a mall cart will be met with any more success. The mall offered us the chance for a one-off promotional event or the opportunity to partner on a multi-cultural community event. I’m grateful for the overture and pleased that they wanted to include us in their list of nonprofit partners. But I can’t help but feel that their goal of wanting the mall to be a part of “the community” does not extend to wanting the mall to be a part of a “community in dialogue.”

I shared my regret that they hadn’t worked with me to brainstorm Table Talk options over the three weeks since our last conversation rather than deciding its future in a vacuum and presenting it as a fait accompli today. Dialogue. Communication. Relationship. The irony of the situation was not lost. Oh, had the mall management spent more time as a Table Talk participant rather than a Table Talk observer!

Finally, I asked Maura to put the mall’s position in writing so I wouldn’t mischaracterize or misstate the their position. After first agreeing to my request, Maura said, in the end, that wouldn’t be necessary.

Ninety-nine percent of folks in the world don’t see endeavors like Table Talks as part of their work. It’s not relevant. Not part of their bottom line. Most business owners and mall directors fall into that group.

But out there in the world there’s that one business person in a hundred who believes dialogue and compassion are part of everyone’s agenda. That efforts to reduce polarization should be encouraged, not measured against a legal checklist of specifications. And that it’s his or her job to be a partner in making that happen.

And we’ll find that person.

So what’s next?

We’ll be meeting informally in the food court next Tuesday. No signs. No balloons. We’ll drink coffee. And if you come by, you can have coffee, too. I’ll have a copy of the Quran on the table. (I think that’s allowed.) Then we’ll go our separate ways. We’ll call it Table Un-Talks. And just to be clear, this is NOT an invitation. You can tell this is not an invitation because 1) you have to buy your own coffee, and 2) if you bring in food from outside the mall, we won’t make you get rid of it! No. You’re not being invited. If, however, you happen to need a pair of socks or bottle of vitamins, and you come to the mall around noon, we might see each other there.

To stay current on where Table Talks ends up, LIKE the Facebook page of My Brother From another Mother. Later this week, Nareen and I intend to take this show on the road. More info soon on FB.

Until then, keep on truckin’…

Yes, it’s the journey!

 

Tuesday, May 2

Eman remains in Jordan for a few more weeks. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to her and her family. Today I’ll be joined by sister Zina. Looking forward to whatever is in store for us!


What a delight it is to spend time with Zina! Her responses to today’s Table Talk questions about women in Islam and Sunni and Shiite differences were spot-on and so clear. When one of our visitors expressed support of our outreach efforts yet spoke more about problems in the world than compassion and efforts to build understanding between people, Zina had a brilliant response. She asked him to imagine a white sheet of paper with a black spot in the middle. She pointed out that, even though the black spot covers only a small fraction of the surface of the paper, people can be so narrowly focused that they never see the larger area of white space.

Our lives are like that. Tunnel vision directs us to the black dot. But if we step back and view the entire picture, we recognize and appreciate the vast amount of the white space surrounding us.

The choice is ours.

Tuesday, April 25

Our thoughts are with Eman, who is still in Jordan. I hear she’s due to return this weekend. On the local front, Zina and Kehkashan who joined me last week cannot make it today. Let’s see what the Universe has in store!


9:30am
I sent the officials from the Danbury Mall an email last Wednesday explaining the purpose of Table Talks. I said it was created to un-strange the stranger, break-down stereotypes, and provide an opportunity for people to see, meet, and talk with The Other. I said Eman and I meet people where they are. There is no coercion in religion…or coffee chats! And I asked for a chance to brainstorm together to find a way to make this work for everyone. No response. Yet.

Let’s see what today brings…

My life-partner, Yehezkel Landau, and I sat at a food court table, sans signs…and sans Muslims! Through a series of unexpected life events, none of my Muslim sisters were able to attend! I posted, “I’m here holding down the fort for peace and understanding” to which one of my FB friends replied, “It’s a tough job, but someone needs to do it!”

We casually tossed Table Talk flyers on the table and, of course, tied red balloons to the chair. But without Table Talk signage, our invitation for a conversation will be greatly hindered.  I was looking forward to continuing the discussion with the Danbury mall management folks, but they did not come by. I’m surprised. But no news is good news, I guess. Maybe they’re brainstorming in-house to figure out a way to support this opportunity for community dialogue.

Yehezkel went to grab coffee and munchies, and soon David Stevenson who hosts Progressive Soup, a local public access TV show, came by. David sought us out after reading the article in TheNewsTimes and had a hard time finding us because he was looking for the signs! Oh my… We had a stimulating conversation about the role of dialogue in relationship building and politics. Ultimately we agreed that nearly everything these days is political. But politics doesn’t have to dominate everything, including Table Talks. David emailed some colleagues about our open invitation to conversation, and we look forward to greeting them next week.

Finally, Nicole, the gracious marketing manager from Chick-fil-A, came by to tell us she was pleased to see us return to our usual spot following last week’s visit from mall management. We value the support of Chick-fil-A and all those folks who give us thumbs’ up each week. I guess I’m not really holding down the fort alone, after all.

Looking forward to Eman’s return next week. And giving her a big hug.

Our new table “layout”

Yehezkel Landau and David Stevenson engaged in conversation

Tuesday, April 18

It is with deep sadness that I report Eman will not be joining me today for Table Talks. Her brother, Muhammad Khair, passed away suddenly, and Eman is in Jordan with her family. All of us extend our love and deepest condolences to Eman and her family. May her brother’s name be a blessing. “To God we belong and to Him we shall return.”


Today was a bittersweet Table Talks day. As much as I missed Eman–and my heart is with her as she makes her way to Jordan with her daughter, Maryam–I enjoyed the time spent with sisters Zina and Kehkashan. Every conversation with a Muslim sister or brother opens me to a new way to see the world. My gratitude grew exponentially as we talked about recognizing assumptions of The Other. Why it might be okay to eat a ham sandwich in front of a Muslim but not okay to drink wine in front of her. How “arranged marriages” are oh, so similar in Judaism and Islam and, oh yes, how they’re the same for anyone who gets a call from a friend suggesting a blind date! I’m grateful for Zina’s and Kehkasah’s candor and generosity.

Halfway through our time today, folks from the management office of the Danbury Fair Mall stopped by. They were gracious and informative in sharing with us the challenges they see if we continue our weekly talks in the food court. As much as they appreciate the work we’re doing and the intention behind our project, they asked me to submit a formal request if we want to continue meeting. I’m putting together a proposal now and hope we can come up with a mutually agreeable solution. Table Talks depends upon continuity (we must meet at regularly appointed times) and hospitality (we need to let people know we’re open to conversation.) It seems our Table Talk signs are a no-no for the mall folks, so today when they left our table, we took our table signs down. Needless to say, there wasn’t much conversation for the time that we had remaining, since no one knew we were open to having them sit with us, and we think it best to avoid the accost-a-stranger method of engagement!  🙂

I hope we’ll be able to come to an agreement by next week so Table Talks can continue at the mall.  Stay tuned! Prayers and duas appreciated.

Meeting today with Danbury Fair Mall management folks.

Tuesday, April 11

What a busy day we had today. MacKenzie Rigg from the Danbury NewsTimes spent time with us and wrote a story about Table Talks! And because she couldn’t interview us or bring a photographer into the mall unannounced, MacKenzie contacted the Danbury Fair Mall officials, which meant they were officially notified we were sitting in the food court drinking coffee each week. Apparently they thought we were a “wonderful” idea! Thank you, Danbury Fair Mall.

Dava and Brenda, women who had heard about our work, stopped by and found themselves on the front page of the daily paper the next day! They both had nice things to say about Table Talks, and we hope they’ll join our monthly gathering of Jewish and Muslim women. Saba came by for another visit (we have groupies!) and shared with us her own enterprise: a public art-dialogue project that she hopes to launch in the next month. Good luck, Saba!

THEN to round out the day, we had a visit from the mayor of Danbury, Mark Boughton. His appearance didn’t make the paper the next day, though. Too bad he’s not as famous as Table Talks! 🙂

Eman talks with Brenda. (Photo credit: John Voorhees) Front page photo of the 4/12/2017 NewsTimes

His Honor Mayor Mark Boughton with Eman and me (Photo credit: Maryam Beshtawii)

NewsTimes reporter, MacKenzie Rigg talking with Table Talk participants (Photo credit: Maryam Beshtawii)

Tuesday, April 4

Another gray rainy day. We’ve been having a plethora of puddly Tuesdays!

But the weather also brought our greatest number of Table Talks visitors yet.

First we were visited by day-care dad, Scott, and his toddler twins. Scott stood by the table, double-stroller in tow, chatting easily about our work, and bonding with Eman over her two [albeit considerably older] twins. Then Rhoda dashed by us and quickly returned to say she couldn’t visit but posed a question about the current administration’s handling of Israel-Palestine. (Chock-up that visit as the first mention of the Middle East at our Table Talks.) After a 15-minute interval, an old friend, Ed Stotsky, from Congregation Kol Ami in Westchester County totally surprised me since he lives nearly an hour away and happened to “be in the area.” Diana (Muslim) and her friend Jaislinn (Catholic) discussed family members who’d converted to Islam and linguistic similarities between Hebrew and Arabic. And Renee (Druid) told us how much she valued the work we were doing. Finally Lisa and her adorable George stopped to offer her support for our ongoing public conversations. George walked away with one of our identifying, red balloons.

A wonderful day all around…even if the weather was less than sunny.

Rhoda asks about current events

Friend, Ed Stotsky, comes upon our work 50 miles from home

Eman, Jaislinn, Diana and me! An Abrahamic assembly

Chatitng with Rene about our sacred planet

Mom, Lisa, and son, George, sharing a moment of delight.

Tuesday, March 25

Today was gray and rainy, and the crowd in the food court was smaller than usual. However with our usual enthusiasm, we posted our signs and got our coffee. Soon Saba, a friend of Eman’s, stopped by the table for a chat. And a little bit later, Rich, the manager from Chick-fil-A who was hosting colleagues at a nearby table came over to to say hello. We discussed the progress of Table Talks and then began to explore the possibility of hosting an interfaith program at his church. Wouldn’t that be terrific!

Chatting with Chick-Fil-A manager, Rich Beattie, again

Table Talks and Friends

TUESDAY, MARCH 21

Week two. I bought pens, a notepad, a pair of scissors and three balloons on my way to the mall and tucked a copy of Torah in my bag before leaving the house. Eman was running a little late. Again, although a little less so, I felt conspicuous sitting under colorful balloons and plastic table signs as shoppers walked by. I opted for a square table this time–again near the front of the food court (and the Chick-fil-A enterprise) but further away from the plastic bush.

Outside the mall, the last two weeks produced evidence of the bigotry and fear that we hope Table Talks can counter. An ugly Islamophobic Letter to the Editor appeared in our local paper, the Newtown Bee that was peppered with the usual “where are the Muslim voices” and blurred lines of Islam, the religion, and the cultural norms of Islamic majority countries. Several community members wrote responses to the letter. Mine included an invitation to the writer, Mr Dale Walter, to visit our Table Talk sessions.

A young Albanian Muslim woman and her locally-born husband brought their lunch trays over to our table and ate a casual meal while we talked about the quality of education, teachers, and high schools in the area. They reported that their children had not experienced any discrimination or racism in school or with their friends and most of our conversation was pleasant and unrelated to Jewish-Muslim engagement.

As we approached the end of our Table Talk time, a man approached our table and said to me, “Hello. I’m Dale Walter.” Surprised, I stood, thanked him for coming, offered my hand, and invited him to sit.

He did. And we talked.

To his credit, Mr Walter asked his questions and listened thoughtfully to our responses. After 30 minutes, Eman extended an invitation to Mr Walter to visit her mosque, which he agreed to do soon. Our guest walked away from the table with a copy of the Quran and a promise to continue the conversation.

Before we packed up to leave, a mother and her young son stopped at our table and talked with us for aout 15 minutes. She didn’t accept our invitation to sit and never seemed comfortable. But she engaged us just the same.

Week Two. Yes!


Eman Beshtawaii talks with Mr Dale Walter

TUESDAY, MARCH 14

We were snowed out! How disappointing! Roads closed and no chance to get to the mall.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 – DAY ONE

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.

I spoke to Eman last fall about setting up a public space for Jewish-Muslim conversation. But we couldn’t find time in our schedules to dedicate to regular sessions. So since consistency is key to success, I approached Eman again in January, and we committed to meet on Tuesdays, noon to 1:30, for an initial period of two months.

Today is the first day.

I arrived first at the Danbury Fair food court—a full 20 minutes before our scheduled start time, eager to see the experiment unfold…and a little apprehensive. I set my materials down on three different tables in three different locations before settling on a round table with six chairs—near the mall entrance of the food court [visible], next to an artificial tree [but not too exposed.] I tied a few balloons that I’d bought to the back of a chair, set up tabletop signs facing different directions, put MyBroFam business cards in a holder, and waited. Eman was a little late, and I felt more than a little self-conscious. After a few shoppers walked by glancing at the signs but not slowing their pace, I called Eman to find out that she returned home to retrieve a stack of Quran’s, which I had asked her to bring, and would arrive shortly. I busied myself with arranging pens on the table and fiddling with my coffee cup. Soon she arrived.

We started by talking a little about strategy and began inviting passers-by to join us. After a few head nods and averted eyes, Rich, the manager of the Chick-fil-A concession, came over to the table and asked what we were doing.

I explained our purpose and, for the next 45 minutes, we talked about Jewish-Muslim relations, our individual faith journeys and ways to help children appreciate diversity. Rich was curious, gracious and dialogical. His visit was an excellent start to our Table Talks endeavor.