Breaking bread together

Breaking bread together

Three weeks ago, while most of their neighbors were talking about Super Bowl parties and pre-game events, others were busy spreading the word about sex trafficking.

Some left leaflets at hotels near MetLife Stadium, and some distributed special bars of soap that included a hotline number for victims on its wrapping.

Among the participants in that effort, which was organized by the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, was the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood of Bergen County. Now, that group is getting ready to hold its 28th annual breakfast, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on President’s Day, Monday, February 17, at the Hasbrouck Heights Hilton. (The registration deadline has passed, but there are some limited seats available. For information, call the JCRC at 201-820-3944. Admission is $30 for adults and $15 for students.)

Alton Williams of Teaneck, a member of the Baha’i faith, was the chairman of the eight-faith group this year. He said that the pre-Super Bowl human trafficking effort was an example of the sort of work the interfaith organization does between annual breakfasts.

“We heard there were arrests made, so we are hopeful we made a difference,” he said.

This Monday, he said the group was praying collectively that snow wouldn’t get in the way of its keynote event.

“Our goal is to show people how interfaith groups and different religious groups can form friendly partnerships,” Mr. Williams said. “Each year, a different faith group takes the lead.” After the breakfast, which is expected to draw about 400 participants, is over, it will be the Catholic community’s turn to lead until next year’s breakfast.

Before that occurs, participants will hear from Dr. Dorothy Marcic, a playwright, author, and Columbia University professor. A member of the Baha’i faith, she will talk about “Faith and Values in Our Contemporary Society.”

Joy Kurland, the director of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council, said that the group is made up of members of the Jewish, Catholic, Sikh, Protestant, Baha’i, Muslim, Hindu and Jain faiths.

Each year the faiths rotate as hosts, Ms. Kurland said. The Jewish community last hosted in 2008, bringing in Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Union of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center.

Like Mr. Williams, Ms. Kurland said the group gets together for other events and efforts, including prayer vigils in times of crisis. The group stood in solidarity and condemned last year’s Bergen County area synagogue attacks. When a Sikh temple was attacked and six of its members were murdered in Wisconsin in 2012, the group responded by going to a program supporting tolerance at the Sikh temple in Glen Rock.

“It’s a group providing mutual support, cooperation and collaboration in so many ways,” Ms. Kurland said. “Wonderful friendships have developed over the years. The fostering of interfaith understanding and mutual respect promoted has been incredible.”

So much so that the Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee received the Community Diversity Advocate Award from the American Conference on Diversity last October.

Ms. Kurland has participated in the breakfast for 23 of its 28 years; the group behind it stands up against racism and bigotry, she said. She will moderate a women’s empowerment program on March 18 at 7 p.m. The program, which is being hosted by the federation, will include a panel discussion on how women incorporate faith and religion into their lives.

Ms. Kurland said that the discussion typically is faith-based, and political issues aren’t part of the group’s primary focus.

“Clearly there is some information that is shared,” she said. “But we haven’t dealt with issues that are a little more sensitive in the political arena. There have been political issues shared at times when it involves Israel. The Baha’i group has experienced difficult issues of persecution in Iran, and we’ve all rallied around that. We were also so involved in discussion about nuclear proliferation in Iran.”

Ms. Kurland said that the group’s primary goals are to “experience brotherhood and sisterhood together, breaking bread together and finding a way to better understand your neighbor.”

Asked for one story that sums up the group, Ms. Kurland talked about the teenaged daughter of a rabbi who went to an annual breakfast. She sat at a table for teenagers; when she got there, she didn’t know anybody else. She and a young Hindu woman started talking, finding shared interests. Then the Jewish teenager transferred from one high school to another. Who did she run into there? The Hindu teen she met at the breakfast. Ms. Kurland said the two now are “fast friends.”

“Those kinds of things happen as well with many of the adults,” she added. “You just see the universality of a particular theme that relates to all faith communities, whether you are of one faith or another. Even though our speaker this year is Baha’i, she will be speaking from a place of inclusivity of all religions.”

Or, as Mr. Williams said, “it’s all very impressive. The groups are lovely to one another. The fellowship is beautiful.”

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