During the final siege of Aleppo, Syria, in December of 2016, I found myself more distressed than I can ever remember when watching the evening news. Seeing the faces of the children hiding in bombed out buildings as they waited for rescue was heartbreaking. I have rarely felt so helpless in the face of innocence and those faces stayed with me calling me to do something in addition to my prayers for peace.
Some weeks later I heard a report on the evening news about a woman who was working to quell the effects of the Aleppo disaster by making soup! Barbara Abdeni-Massaad, a photographer and writer of cookbooks was living in Beirut, Lebanon and had begun thinking about the Syrian refugees one frigid night in her apartment when she herself could not seem to get warm. By 2015 there were an estimated 1.1 million refugee families in Lebanon. “I couldn’t sleep, thinking about those refugee families in the Bekaa sleeping in their tents. How were they able to beat the winter cold? I couldn’t go on with my life and ignore theirs.” She began to visit the camps bringing soup and eventually, after engaging other soup makers to companion her and cooks from around the world to send her recipes, she wrote a cookbook called Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, published by Interlink Books. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the books sold in the United States go to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
“That’s it!” I said to myself. “That’s what I can do!!” Having soup suppers has become one way in which people like me are able to contribute to the care of refugees in a small way. Barbara Abdeni-Massaad is quoted as saying to the refugees, “Had I been a barber, I would have cut your hair for free. I am not a barber but a photographer and a food writer so I will take photos and write about food to help your cause and send a message to the world.” And to us, she says, “Each kind gesture toward another in need is a step forward for humanity. Use what you know to help others.”
I’m not a barber, not a food writer or a photographer, but tonight under the auspices of The Sophia Center for Spirituality, I will take photos and serve soup to anyone who stops in at the First Congregational Church in Binghamton, New York. I and my co-workers will sell the book Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity and speak of the genesis of this project, hoping to generate interest for soup-making and similar gatherings. And I will finally feel that I have taken that tiny first step that is possible for me toward alleviating suffering in the world.