The Hippo


Mar 18, 2018








Photo by Ryan Lessard.

“A Rabbi and Reverend Walk Into a Coffee Shop…” 

Where: Coffeeberries, 4 Orchard View Dr., Londonderry
When: 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Upcoming Dates: Sept. 8 and 22, Oct. 13 and 27, Nov. 10, Dec. 8 and 22

The lost art
Rabbi and reverend team up for coffee socials

By Ryan Lessard

 A small group of people get together at café called Coffeeberries in Londonderry with a mission: to sit, drink coffee and discuss anything they want to discuss. Nothing about it seems unusual — except that these people don’t know each other. 

“I’m going to break our prime directive,” Reverend Ray Bonin of the Church of the Transfiguration in Derry says to get the discussion underway.
Bonin and Rabbi Peter Levy of the Etz Hayim synagogue (located next to Bonin’s church on a plot of land the church sold to them) have organized this late August gathering. It’s their fifth meeting, and the “prime directive” Bonin is about to break is not to direct the conversation at the start. 
“There is something that’s on my mind because it has happened to me recently,” Bonin said. “My sister passed away recently and so that’s obviously on my mind. I was lucky enough to be there. So I would like to hear what you think or feel about death and dying and your own experience with that.”
The concept is simple: come to the coffee shop and just chat with strangers. That’s the grand idea behind the regular gathering. Its founders hope people from the area will come and relearn the lost art of face-to-face conversation and discover a wider community they don’t know they have.
Bonin went on to set a lighter tone by telling a story of when he was a pallbearer for his late brother. The hearse driver heard a strange noise coming from the coffin, so they removed the coffin from the hearse and opened it up to find a loose golf ball that had been rolling around. Apparently, his brother, an avid golfer and “a big practical joker,” received the golf ball and a scorecard with all birdies on it from someone during the wake. From that point on, Bonin and the other pallbearers couldn’t keep a straight face whenever they moved the coffin.
For a short while, others in the meetup stayed on topic. An older woman quoted a joke about death she heard once, a young man with a Seattle Seahawks shirt and headphones around his neck shared some memories of his late grandmother, and a man with white hair, bushy mustache and suspenders expressed regrets that he argued with his father too much when he was alive. 
But from there, Levy said, folks starting talking about other things.
“We try to keep it as organic as possible,” Levy said later in a phone interview.
He said topics have included hometown changes, family, pets, personal fears, mental health and aging. But another prime directive is to never proselytize or preach. 
“We don’t want this to be a backdoor sale,” Levy said.
And politics are skirted around.
“Someone made a political comment about one of the candidates and we put a stop to that because in this current situation unfortunately I think a lot of rhyme and reason has disappeared from the discourse,” Levy said.
Levy said he hopes the meetups will help create connections, but mostly provide a forum for anonymous interpersonal communication. In some ways, it’s like an internet chat room but in real life, and Levy hopes it will serve as an antidote to the bad habits digital communication creates.
“With a chat room or some kind of forum, you can’t see faces, you can’t see body language, you can’t really tell by the tone of their voice whether they’re being serious or snarky or sarcastic or attempting just to be humorous. All of that is lost,” Levy said. “If you talk to people in human resources now, so many young people come in looking for jobs and they have no ability to read a face, to read body language, to sense a tone of voice.”
So far the groups have ranged in size from intimate groups fewer than 10 people to as many as 20, and Levy hopes more people will come and grow the group size even more.
“All the people in your community are people. They’re not just strangers,” Levy said. 

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