“I felt that the cultural and religious demarcations that exist in the corporeal world were put to the wayside as we shared a serving of commonality along with the main courses of the dinner. By sharing a meal we were all aware of the humanity that exists beyond ourselves. Abraham’s tent is a good icebreaker for those wanting learn about other faiths and a good venue for those who wish to share about their faith.”
-Ali Abdul-Hakim Ferraro, Abraham’s Tent participant
For almost ten years now, the Niagara Foundation has established and hosted programs that aim to build friendships and strengthen understanding between people of many different faiths and cultures. Whether people come to participate in the Abrahamic Traditions dinner, the Niagara Forums, or the Intercultural Trips, the Niagara Foundation has always encouraged dialogue, cooperation, and fellowship among attendees.
With these goals and efforts in mind, the natural extension to these programs is in the Abraham’s Tent initiative, which seeks to bring members of the three Abrahamic faiths in the Chicago area together for dinners filled with interfaith exploration.
The purpose of the Abraham’s Tent dinners is, ultimately, to promote interfaith dialogue, honor religious diversity, and encourage mutual respect among all members. These dinners, currently run by Niagara Foundation’s Director of Cultural Exchange and Interfaith Collaboration, Brendan Dowd, are held in the intimacy of participants’ homes. This is in order for participants to get-to-know one another in a more informal way than they would at one of Niagara’s larger-scale events. So far, Abraham’s Tent dinners have included anywhere from three to nine Chicago locals of all different ages, races, and backgrounds.
Although Abraham’s Tent dinners cater to a smaller number of guests, many participants tend to find that fulfilling and enlightening conversation is not absent. In fact, the cozy feel of this smaller event provides for a deeper approach to inter-religious understanding.
“I would say that for us it was a very enjoyable evening with lots of easy, interesting conversation. There was no “agenda” of topics to discuss, nor did there need to be. The talk just flowed naturally. We had chosen to host the dinner on a Friday night deliberately, so we could share the Jewish home rituals of the Sabbath, which I hope people enjoyed participating in. I’m always happy to increase people’s knowledge of Judaism, and my own about other religions, and I think the evening provided opportunities for both.”
-Lenore Mass, Host of the First Abraham’s Tent Dinner
Many other guests also felt that they didn’t need prepared topics to initiate or maintain conversation throughout the evening. Naturally, guests with similar backgrounds and shared faiths connected more easily, however everyone remained interested in learning about the other two faiths and even how their own faith might be practiced differently in particular places.
Each dinner has entertained a diverse group of people, from those who were raised in their faith and grew up abroad, to those who converted to their faith and grew up in Chicago. This assortment of guests allows for a unique experience at each event.
Initially, there was some concern that these dinners would not make a significant impact in the big picture, especially considering their size. However, program director Brendan Dowd noted that “in the business of building community cohesion it’s the small victories, the sharing of stories with strangers, and the planting of single seeds that brings hope for a fruitful harvest.” Abraham’s Tent dinners provide a fascinating opportunity to appreciate the traditions and ideas of other religions at the local level in order to build and expand to a global effort.
Overall, the Abraham’s Tent initiative has been taking off with over one hundred and fifty people of various interfaith dialogue experience signing up to take part in the program. Many of them end up asking to participate again after their first dinner, due to their appetite to learn more and their desire to delve deeper into issues. One host, Dina Rehab, even urged Niagara to expand the initiative to include religions such as Buddhism.
Here at Niagara, we see a lot of potential in this initiative and hope to watch it grow as it moves forward. If you would like to partake in our festivities, feel free to visit our website to sign up.
Advice for going into Abraham’s Tent dinners? Richard Tani says:
“It’s helpful to be open-minded and go with the idea of learning to meet new people and not worry about the faith or anything else…Go in with the right attitude – this is going to be a fun.”