Fares Farghaly, 12, and his mother, Rania, an Egyptian immigrant, sat at the corner of a large table last night, along with 18 other parents and children of different cultures.
A basket of various bread – each of the countries represented at the occasion – were displayed at the center of the table. There was Mexican sweet concha, Russian rye, Puerto Rican pan de agua, Uzbaki round bread, Middle eastern pitas, Chinese buns, Italian loaves, and Haitian grain bread.
“We are human beings and we have to learn from each other,” said Rania Farghaly. “The language, the other cultures, customs. We live just across the street, this is my hometown, you know.”
And so it went For Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ Breaking Bread, Building Bonds, initiative to counter the large increase in hate crimes across the city and the borough. According to NYPD data, hate crimes in New York City increased by 64 percent between 2018 and 2019.
The plan is to do at least 100 sit-downs in which people break bread and eat with one another and hopefully bridge any gaps in cultural understanding they may have. A particular emphasis on the initiative is placed on engaging young people in participating in these dinners, but most notably will involve New Yorkers who are not typically thought leaders or are otherwise significantly engaged in civic life.
Last night’s dinner was held at P.S. 247, The College Partnership Elementary School, 7000 21st Avenue in Bensonhurst. Deputy Brooklyn Borough President and Chaplain Chaplain Ingrid Lewis-Martin moderated the event with assistance from licensed psychotherapist Samuel Williams.
“I really wanted to have older kids at first, but then I liked the idea of having younger kids with their parents,” said Lewis-Martin. “It shows me that the next generation looks at things with a different perspective.”
P.S 247 has a long-standing relationship with NIA Community Services Network and it’s Beacon Program that serves adults, seniors, students, and kids with free activities and services on its campus. The not-for-profit community organization offered to host the first Breaking Bread event and invited the parents and students to join in.
“They’re our after-school participants and some are alumni like Fares [Farghaly] is one of them who graduated last year,” said Beacon Program Director, Thomas Zaki.
Some of the parents attending last night’s event were dressed in traditional or religious clothing representative of their beliefs, heritage, or culture. Some kids were visibly shy and reserved, while others are incredibly opinionated and eager to share about themselves.
“Who does speak English properly? I mean this is New York,” said Lewis-Martin, imploring the youth at the table to share their feelings about their parents not being able to speak English.
“She had a lot of trouble doing things,” said Fares Farghaly about his mother. He expressed sympathy and understanding for her and others in similar situations.
Cynthia Cruz and her son, Aidan, enthusiastically talked about the pan de agua they brought. “It’s just so soft and fluffy, and it’s good with coffee. You have to have it with coffee. It’s a Puerto Rican thing,” Cruz said.
Lewis-Martin and Williams broke down the definition of a hate crime for the children, ranging in age from under 5 to 13, and why they felt coming together to eat with one another was an important step in combating bigotry.
“In our program, we try to create a comfortable and safe environment for everyone. We are open to the community and it’s a resource with a huge immigrant population,” said Zaki, about the Beacon program’s atmosphere, “We’re cognizant of that aspect. We’re fortunate enough that nothing in this immediate area has happened like the antisemitism in other parts of Brooklyn.”
They, of course, eventually cut into the bread and pass them around the table to share in Thanksgiving fashion with dips and jams and fruits.
For Lewis-Martin, it was mission accomplished – breaking bread and building bonds.