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Food for thought: Multicultural holiday lunches promote understanding

By Diane C. Lade
Staff writer

November 26, 2002

The dinner was a little nontraditional, with the turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce served together in a sandwich-style pita wrap instead of on a plate.

But the spirit was vintage Thanksgiving as 22 people from different cultures gathered around a table to feast and talk about common dreams.

"It's about the message, not the meal," said Barbara Cheives, president of Toward a More Perfect Union, one of two organizations serving a multicultural holiday lunch in West Palm Beach on Monday. "Thanksgiving speaks to who we are. This is a great start to bring people together."

The American Jewish Committee's local offices started things rolling when America's Table: A Thanksgiving Reader was published by their national headquarters earlier this month. The organization, which promotes unity and democracy, hoped that public and private activities would be built around the 15-page lyrical guide designed to be read aloud at Thanksgiving meals.

Southeast Regional Director William Gralnick envisioned something closer to the original holiday. He enlisted Cheives' organization to help bring different groups to the table. They represented several faiths and the Hispanic, Haitian and African-American communities.

Gralnick created an easy atmosphere -- there were no formal "issues" discussions on Monday and swapping business cards was as close as it came to politics -- so leaders with divergent agendas could come together under good circumstances.

"It's important they get to know each other when nothing is wrong so when something is wrong, they can work together," Gralnick said.

Besides turkey wraps and cookies, those attending shared something of themselves. They took turns reading from America's Table, which honors the nation's diversity and says, "We are each responsible for keeping America on course."

Some then spoke of their Thanksgiving memories, Gralnick going first.

"Thanksgiving always has been a big holiday for me, as all my grandparents were born in other countries and did not have easy lives there," he said. His Jewish grandmother always told him how grateful she was to be an American. As a child, she had watched, terrified, when Russian cossacks swept through her Romanian village, killing her neighbors.

Kelvin Bledsoe, community development director for the Urban League of Palm Beach County, talked of handing out food to starving Somalians as an Army officer on a Thanksgiving 1993 relief mission.

"I can guarantee you that if you don't find a way to bring people together, it leads to destruction," he told the group.

Copies of America's Table: A Thanksgiving Reader are available free online at www.ajc.org.

Staff Writer Diane Lade can be reached at dlade@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6618.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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