Photo: On the Table #2! Lunch with the Israeli Tourism Board including Consul Omer Eshel and the Argentinian Consulate including Consul General Marcelo Suárez Salvia.
By: Edirin Davis and Eleanor Peck
We were excited by the prospect of hosting three On the Table events on May 12th to celebrate the Chicago Community Trust’s 99th anniversary. We had been gearing up for weeks, spreading the word to our contacts and getting the interfaith community involved. Our biggest event was the opening of the exhibition, Greek Architects in Istanbul During the Era of Westernization. But, first up, we planned a breakfast with young interfaith leaders, bringing together representatives from Loyola University, the Council for a Parliament of World Religions, JCUA, CAIR-Chicago, and Niagara. Our breakfast at Tweet in Edgewater ran two and a half hours long. That is the great price you pay when you get a bunch of interfaith folks together to talk shop. After the breakfast, we headed straight back to the office for an On The Table Meeting with Friends lunch in our office.
Guests for lunch included some from the Argentinian Consulate and the Israel Ministry of Tourism as well as Niagara staff members. There was such a diverse group of people, so it was decided that the discussion about Chicago would be from an international perspective. The question “Why are you proud to call Chicago home?” was an easy one to answer.
While we were all from different countries or cities (Argentina, Turkey, Israel, New York, Texas, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh all had representatives in the room!), there was one thing everyone agreed on, their love for Chicago. Everyone went around the table saying what was it about Chicago that made it so welcoming. Phrases such as “culturally open” and “not overexposed” were repeated. It was interesting to note that people agreed that Chicago had mastered the art of being a large and popular city, and yet it still feels small and familiar at the same time.
Cindy from the Israel Ministry of Tourism had said Chicago reminded her of a Yiddish phrase translated into “A world within worlds”. This meant that Chicago had a vibrant international culture but also a clear distinction of what made it city uniquely different from other major cities such as New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. A large majority of the participants were not originally from Chicago, except for one individual, Niagara member, Anthony Bruno. Born and raised in the city, he recalled when each neighborhood was defined by cultural backgrounds, commenting that you used to ask someone what parish they were from to know the neighborhood. He has seen the city evolved into a more diverse place.
But with all the praise of Chicago, we acknowledged that the city is not perfect, discussing questions like, “What are some inequalities in Chicago?” and “What is preventing Chicago from tackling the inequalities in our community?” The view that Chicago is a dangerous city is one that Chicago has yet to shake. The gun violence in Chicago has led to the nickname “Chi-raq”. We all agreed that this was a major issue that needs to be resolved.
However, many felt that Chicago was a safe city and that all cities have crime. Niagara’s Brendan Dowd and Edirin Davis both addressed the issue of segregation that still exists in education and in housing. These were the inequalities the lunch event touched on, but we did not go into too much detail on how they could be resolved. While a solution to the inequalities did not arise, the On The Table event brought together groups that were strangers at the beginning of the lunch, ended as newfound friends.