By Tien Phan
On October 29th, Seton Hall University partnered with the Syrian Supper Club organization to organize the Syrian Supper Club Event in the hopes of bringing different people together and hearing different stories from Syrian refugees.
The night started slowly as people began to flow in. Everyone warmly greeted one another before the actual event started. The Main Lounge in University Center, initially empty, was filled with laughter and small conversation. While the greetings were still happening, the volunteers enthusiastically set up the last stages of preparation. It was, indeed, a nice turnout of faculty members, students, and the Syrian refugees themselves.
When you walked in, you can suddenly hear music from the Middle East. Svetlana Samoylova, a Diplomacy and Economics double major, said that she felt at home with her Turkish background. She thought the welcoming atmosphere was essential in forming and being attentive to the idea that refugees are welcomed.
With a humorous sound effect, Dr. Widian Nicola, assistant professor of the Department of Sociology Anthropology and Social Work, loosened up the crowd signaling an alleviated night for everyone in attendance.
A video was then shown, displaying many students saying welcome to the audience, especially to the refugees, in the students’ respective languages. Despite all the differences that we have for one another, individually, the gesture offered a sense of a strong community with many different ethnicities live together, which was the emphasis of the entire night.
Right after, volunteering students commenced with a story of the incarnation of the Buddha to a parrot. The parrot was in desperate effort to save other animals from burning fire, but without any assistance from the gods, mainly because they initially refused to. One of the animals, an eagle, realizing its own unrecognized privileges over other animals, and helped, after hearing the little parrot say, “I don’t need advice. I just need someone to help.”
The story alluded the understanding many individuals lack for one another. They focus on rational aspects too much and morality seems to fade away. The under-lying message also highlighted the fact that, even if someone has a head-start in life due to their background, that does not mean that they cannot use that advantage to assist those who are less fortunate.
Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Peter Shoemaker, spoke on how fast his decision to sponsor the event was. “It was almost an instant yes,” he said. Dean Shoemaker was thrilled to have such meaningful event, and hopes Seton Hall can host many more of in the future. Realizing he was the last speaker before everyone goes to have food, he jokingly teased about how long he would talk and then invited everyone to join the main event.
There seemed to be enough food to feed a military unit, and no one held back on their desire to enjoy good cuisine. There was hummus, kebab halabi, kibbeh, tabbouleh, fattoush, bastirma, and most of all, the delicious dessert of baklava. Everyone enjoyed one dish after another. Seeing everyone shared the meal altogether cultivate the whole idea of the experience: sharing and understanding.
One of the co-founders of the Syrian Supper Club spoke briefly, showing her appreciation for all the contributions in order to make the event possible. What she shared came as a shock to most of the people in the audience. She said that two women prepared the meal for three hundred individuals who came that night; it was a productive effort as the cooks were driven by their determination to share their cultures with unfamiliar faces.
The highlighted speaker of the night was Mr. Abdul Alargha, who immigrated to the United States in 2013. He recounted the experience of when he first became an immigrant; an experience that had him turning from a wealthy business man in his homeland, to homeless, only a day after coming to America. After two long years of waiting, Mr. Alargha was granted asylum, and now, he has his family with his wife and children with them. He is confident in what the future may hold.
A double major in Diplomacy and Social Work, Ella Small, described the motivation to organize this event as clear and straightforward: welcoming the strangers and letting them share their stories. “I believe in that motivation and connecting all the people that I would never able to meet is a wonderful opportunity,” she added. When the night came to a close, and Ms. Small could see the positive result on both the refugees and the students, it solidified her beliefs in connecting people altogether.
Ms. Samoylova could not stress enough the importance of the occasion for Seton Hall students. The night further showed that despite initial differences, most people are not that different from one another. Because of certain circumstances, their lives are made difficult, and Ms. Samoylova affirmed that this would help people to acknowledge the difficulties of being an immigrant and leaving everything behind. More awareness ought to be raised for a more understanding and inclusive community.