There are many reasons people have dinner parties, but how many are given for the express purpose of bringing together people of different faiths for an open dialogue about religious belief? This is the principle behind the Anti-Defamation League Interfaith Committee’s Sustenance for Strangers: Breaking Barriers by Breaking Bread program, which asserts that “all cultures include meals as a basic venue for establishing and promoting communication.” The Sustenance for Strangers dinner I attended was held at the home of Marilyn Gilbert and Nathan Rundlett, and it was a fascinating and powerful experience for everyone involved.
The group was 12 strong, and things got down to business in short order. As the introductions proceeded around our circle, an amazing range of backgrounds and experiences came to light. There were two atheists, each with very different stories, and both with flashing wit and hearts of gold. There were Christians of every denomination, from lapsed Catholics and Nazarenes to committed current churchgoers and even a Westmont faculty member. One man, a hairdresser, follows a guru whom he has traveled to visit in India 12 times now. Another woman who was brought up in a conservative Christian household described her experiences living with a Muslim man and moving to the Middle East.
When the whole thing was over, and the last delicious morsel of dessert had been consumed, there was a feeling of satisfaction that had nothing to do with the fine food. Something wonderful had happened — each of us had found ourselves anew through the act of revealing our deepest feelings and beliefs to a group of sympathetic strangers.
For more information about Sustenance for Strangers, call Julie Saltoun or Amy Frey at the ADL office at 564-6670, or Marilyn Gilbert, the co-chair of the Interfaith Committee, at 967-7183.
— Charles Donelan