As a native of Brooklyn who served there as a police officer for 22 years, and as a representative in the State Senate whose district included several Jewish neighborhoods, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams learned more about his Jewish neighbors Sunday — at a Nepalese restaurant.
Adams, at right in photo, joined 15 New Yorkers, members of an assortment of religions and ethnic groups, at a meal Sunday night that kicked off his and Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds” initiative to reduce the incidence of hate crimes in New York City. The meal was held at the Bamboo House and Bar in Jackson Heights.
The initiative, designed to include 100 similar meals throughout the city in coming months, was inspired, he said, by the recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks here.
Shared meals among people who barely know each other, or each other’s traditions and beliefs, are the perfect way to reduce intergroup tension and increase tolerance, Adams told The Jewish Week. “It’s a great way for people to know each other … one meal at a time,” he said. “We don’t appreciate the lubricating force food is. It allows people to relax.”
In ethnically mixed New York City, “we don’t share each other’s lives, although we share each other’s space” at work and in other settings, he said. “We don’t know each other.”
Rabbi Bob Kaplan, who coordinates intergroup relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council-New York and consulted Adams in establishing the new program, called it “a great idea.”
He said people sharing meals is “a launching pad for people getting to know each other. They have to hear each other’s narrative” and life stories.”
Since the restaurant is not kosher, Jewish participants who keep kosher and Muslims who follow halal restrictions, brought their own, acceptable food Items. Diners were urged to tell a little about their community’s traditions. A Sikh man spoke about his turban; a few Jewish participants discussed the kipa and the black hat that Orthodox men wear.
Sunday’s meal, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, took place during Peace Week, the annual series of events that honor the legacy of the late civil rights leader.
A rash of hate crimes, including a shocking spate of attacks on Orthodox Jews in and around New York, has led to more money for security, more patrols in targeted neighborhoods, special offices to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. But “Breaking Bread” also shows what’s needed on the ground: neighbors getting to know neighbors.
The success of Sunday’s meal has led Adams to increase his goal for “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds.”
His new goal is “1,000 ambassadors for living together. We don’t want to stop with 100.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, who took part in Sunday’s dinner, summed it up to us this way: “The more we do, the better the relations. The more we interface, the more we diffuse some of the stereotypes.”
For more information and to attend a meal go to: brooklyn-udsa.org/breaking-bread.