On a rainy, foggy Saturday night in Glen Ridge, candles flickered, and a celebratory spirit infused nearly one hundred attendees at the latest Syria Supper Club gathering, this one at the Glen Ridge Congregational United Church of Christ. Children played, adults mingled over mocktails named Arabian Sun and Ginger Green Tea-Ni and enjoyed the jazzy tones of local combo The Southside Quartet while the tantalizing aromas of baking food wafted above the lively chatter. As Iftar, the breaking of Ramadan’s daily fast, approached at 8:07 pm, Dorothy Waldt, a church member who has spearheaded the night’s event the last two years, started the dinner by encouraging everyone to fill their plates and return for seconds and thirds, but most of all, to mingle with their neighbors. At her side, was one of the neighbors, Abdul, a Syrian refugee who arrived in the U.S. in 2013 and eventually was able to bring his wife and children over to settle in Montclair. He translated her remarks into Arabic for the Syrian refugees among the guests and acted as a translator for all guests wanting to get to know the chefs and their families better.
Syria Supper Club, part of The United Tastes of America, is the brainchild of Kate McCaffrey and Melina Macall, two congregants from Montclair congregation B’Nai Keshet, who wanted to support and empower Syrian refugees as they settle into their new lives in the U.S. The Syria Supper club creates a chance for the families to share their culture with their new neighbors while raising funds to support the refugees and the program itself. In just under two years, nearly 400 dinners have taken place, and 40 Syrian families have prepared meals.
Saturday’s talented chefs were Khlood, a mother of three, and Khetem, who has five children. The dishes are prepared by families; the host (which can be an individual, organization or business), merely needs to provide the venue, dinnerware, drinks, dessert supplements and guests. The only qualification is that a host attend one meal prior to their own event. If you are interested in attending, donating or hosting, learn more here.
The sumptuous feast on Saturday included nearly 20 serving trays of delicacies, many suitable for vegans and vegetarians. On the menu were hummus, pita, baba ghanoush, falafel, braised chicken and potatoes, okra in tomato sauce, green beans, fattoush salad, lentils, basmati rice, beef kibbeh, chicken kebabs, a roasted pepper and walnut spread called muhammara, and a gorgeous pink dip, metabel shawander, made from beet and eggplant. Homemade baklava sprinkled with pistachios was a favorite dessert.
During dinner, the church’s music director Tom Mustachio led the Glen Ridge Chorale Society through interfaith vocal pieces to mark the concurrent holidays of Ramadan, Shavuot and Pentecost, and they fittingly capped off the program with a soaring rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
One guest, Clara Palacios, an exchange student from Spain on break from studies at Tulane University, marveled at the event saying, “I really think we need these kinds of things in Spain and Europe. We feel the flow of refugees and their culture shock, and this provides a good welcome for them.”
Abdul was joined by Khetem’s husband Mohammed, and both addressed the crowd, detailing their families’ perilous journeys to America and expressing tremendous gratitude and love to their wives for safeguarding their children throughout. Dorothy Waldt later debuted a short original video by Ali, one of the Syrian teens present, starring some of his young siblings and their friend, reflecting his thoughts on the war in his homeland.
When asked about the impact of the evening, Reverend Damian Lake, the Interim Minister at the church remarked, “The most important part is that we establish a relationship with these families where they are welcome and appreciated for their gifts and that we cross those cultural borders to grow closer.”
There will be another Syria Supper Club event on Saturday, June 9 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at St. Luke’s Montclair (73 S. Fullerton Avenue, Montclair). Tickets: $50 per person; visit the Syria Supper Club’s website at https://www.theunitedtastesofamerica.org/calendar-of-events