Connecting Neighbors

Cache Community Connections volunteer Carol Foht speaks online with Rida Shoorbajee as part of the civic organizations “Connecting Neighbors” interview series.

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The organization known as Cache Community Connections has come up with a creative way to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic — a series of online interviews with local residents from diverse backgrounds.

The interfaith and civic group, formed in the wake of 9/11, has sponsored the annual Logan Tabernacle Concert and Lecture Series for many years, but concerns about safety at public gatherings led to cancellation of all 70 of the group’s live programs over the past year. Tired of sitting on their hands, members hatched the idea of doing the interviews.

At first this was planned just as a substitute for CCC’s canceled Martin Luther King Day celebration at the tabernacle in January, but the interviews went so well the group is now planning to extend the program indefinitely.

“We have plans to do many more in the coming months, so it now becomes not a single event but a series of events that have a virtual life rather than something that lives in a very temporary moment,” longtime CCC member Richard West said.

West explained that the interviews mesh well with his organization’s mission, which has been to connect people across religious and cultural lines in Cache Valley.

“Conditions of the pandemic caused us to rethink how we get information out to the community,” he said. “One of the things we’re really interested in is creating uplifting, inspiring, unifying events that bring people from diverse backgrounds together. The challenge was how can we do that without bringing people to the site, so we settled on this idea of interviewing people representing diverse perspectives, experiences, backgrounds and so forth.”

The new series, titled “Connecting Neighbors,” features five interviews so far and is available for viewing at cachecommunityconnections.org. Among the interview subjects are Jimmy Moore, a former NBA player and member of Cache Valley’s small African American population; Darren Parry, council member of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone; Saboor Sahely, the owner of Angie’s restaurant who immigrated from Afghanistan; Algerian immigrant Hadjer Abir Bensaha; and USU aviation student Rida Shoorbajee, who has divided his formative years between the United States and war-torn Syria.

CCC member Carol Foht interviewed Shoorbajee, and the two touched on many topics related to Islam, including the widely misunderstood concept of “jihad.” But what listeners might also find interesting is the 21-year-old’s take on how Muslims and Americans perceive each other, something he is intimately familiar with as a person who has straddled the two cultures.

“I can see the world from two points of view,” he told Foht. “l can see why people here blame things happening across the world on the Middle Easterners, and I can see why they blame the Americans for what’s happening in the world, and I’ve learned to appreciate that because not a lot of people have learned to do that. It helps me a lot in my work, in my life and when I’m trying to make professional relationships. … Wherever I work, when politics is brought up, I get to bring the story of the Syrian people and the American people.”

Shoorbajee and Foht concluded their 17-minute encounter with high praise for the process they’d just been through and almost a giddiness over how well it went.

“This is amazing. I’m glad you reached out to me and I’m glad I gave you the opportunity so we can communicate,” the USU student said. “We need more stuff like this, reaching out to individuals like, ‘Hey would you like to talk about your culture,’ because we don’t know.”

Foht responded, “What we hope to do with this is spread the word so that people will get online and watch these interviews. We’d like to see the schools get them, organizations, Facebook, anyplace that we can put these out would certainly be helpful.”

In an email exchange with The Herald Journal, she added, “All videos are interesting, but Rida’s is one we wish would go all across the U.S. He sure puts a different light on jihad and how Muslims and Americans view each other. I think this young man has more to offer as a ‘peace builder’ than he yet realizes.”

West said although initial interview subjects were selected because of their diverse backgrounds, the program could be expanded to include all sorts of other people with unique perspectives and stories to tell.

“That was the obvious place to start because we originally intended for this to take the place of the Martin Luther King event, which was always a culturally, ethnically oriented kind of event,” West said. “But the series could also deal with other kinds of life experience, unusual circumstances, health challenges, who knows what, so we have included an array of attributes that we may pursue as we reach out to the community and bring in additional interviews.”

One of Cache Community Connections’ first undertakings in the early 2000s was organizing a regular community meal known as “Loaves and Fishes” that welcomed residents of all faiths and circumstances to sit down and break bread together. That program eventually spun off into a separate nonprofit endeavor, but the spirit of Loaves and Fishes is clearly present in the Connecting Neighbors program.

“I suppose the idea is, if we’re interested in connecting neighbors, we’re trying to get people who may not be known to their neighbors,” West said. “These may be people who live next to you, but because of life circumstances you don’t have an opportunity or haven’t taken the opportunity to interact with them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover, ‘Wow, I’m living next to someone who has this story to tell and I didn’t know about it.”

People wanting to get involved with the interview project can contact West at richwest65@gmail.com.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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