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Breaking down barriers: Interfaith association strives to forge empathy

If you want to break down a barrier, you might want to break bread, first.

That’s long been the recipe of the Greater Morgantown Interfaith Association — the group that attempts to forge empathy and mutual respect by getting people from all beliefs to sit down with a plate of food in front of them.

Hopefully, association members say, the plate becomes a platform for dialogue.

The association serves that up every quarter by way of its now-famous community potluck dinners.

Sunday’s was at Spruce Street United Methodist Church.

Around 30 people came out to the red-bricked church at the top Spruce to feast on fare from pasta and meatballs to koshari, the national dish of Egypt.

The latter, with its blend of rice, macaroni noodles, lentils, fried onions and a sauce steeped in Middle Eastern spices, made for a pretty good culinary metaphor, Yasmeen Mustafa said.

“There are lots of different things in there,” the longtime association member said, as she doled it out on plates from behind a row of folding tables laden with food.

“And when it blends together, it’s pretty special.”

As said, that’s the point of the potluck.

“If you share a meal with someone you get to know that person,” she said.

“That’s awareness. And with awareness, comes understanding, and then, empathy.”
Amen to that, said Neil Leftwich, the pastor of Spruce Street UMC.

His church in recent months has been home base for the dinners.

“We’re happy to do that,” he said. “And people do enjoy it.”

People like Dave Davis, a community activist and volunteer who never misses an interfaith potluck.

In today’s politically divisive times, which can spill over to racial and religious strife, what was served up Sunday, he said, just might have been the menu of the moment.

“This is something we need to be doing,” he said.

“I love it when I see people of different cultures and faiths getting together.”

And what might initially be perceived as “different,” he added, usually turns out to be more familiar than we might realize at first blush.

Nico Pacilli, Misbah Muzaffer and Nisa Rana are testament to that.

All three are first-generation West Virginians.

Pacilli grew up in Morgantown and Muzaffer and Rana were high school friends back in Bluefield.

The trio attends WVU, where all are members of the Muslim Students Association. They were at the dinner Sunday for the fellowship and to promote their organization’s spring banquet Thursday, which will benefit Mercy-USA, an outreach organization that benefits those who are suffering across the globe, be it by way political oppression or natural disaster.

Visit the Muslim Student Association’s Facebook page to learn more.

Pacilli said he appreciates the potluck dinners for their mission and menu.

“In Morgantown, you have Muslims, Christians and Jews living side-by-side,” he said. “This is how we get to know each other.”

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