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Out & About in Cleveland

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Quan Am Buddhist Temple Celebration and CAMEO Picnic

We started off on Sunday, July 20th, by attending the 10th anniversary celebration of the Quan Am Buddhist Temple on Bellaire Road in Cleveland. When we arrived we introduced ourselves to the Venerable Le Thanh who welcomed us as an honored guest and seated us in the very first row along with our good friend, Mr. Le Nguyen who was the Cleveland City Hall Liaison to the Vietnamese Community before he retired. Also sitting nearby was Mr. Scott Staley of Quoin Construction who recalled to us (as he later did to all of the attendees during the ceremony) that he had met the Venerable Le Thanh about 6 years ago when there was a dilapidated three car garage on the property which had to be demolished before the new addition could be built. Five years ago they were about to start work on the new addition but the Venerable Le Thanh would not allow it to start on a particular date because that date was said to be unlucky thus they started a couple of days later. Mr. Staley loved working with the Venerable Le Thanh and said that those who worked and worshipped here were "sweet people."

We also talked with Ms. Spring Hartman and Ms. Melinda Kilborne who live down the street from the Quan Am Temple. A couple of days ago they observed the people of the temple scurrying around getting things ready for the celebration so they walked over to see what was going on and were invited to come here today for the festivities.

The program featured another good friend of ours, Mr. Joseph Meissner who has visited Vietnam many times. During his travels, he was inspired by an elderly monk who recently passed away at age 92. Before he died, though, the monk told his followers to "follow the Buddha and do good." When Mr. Meissner tells this story to young people of Vietnamese descent here in the United States he always adds that they should never forget the customs, traditions, and families back in Vietnam.

The people of the Quan Am Temple were indeed honored when Mr. Le Nguyen presented them with proclamations from Mayor Frank Jackson and Governor John Kasich. They were also humbled and honored by the presence of Monastic Sangha from such places as California, New York, and Michigan who had traveled far to be with them on this day.

During the program, the Venerable Le Thanh recalled that their experiences with the Quan Am Temple over the past 10 years had been like "upstairs, downstairs" and echoed what Mr. Staley said about what poor shape the property was in when they first acquired it. Nevertheless, she was very proud of their accomplishments and thanked those who contributed "either directly or indirectly over the years." The Venerable Le Thanh said that the Quan Am Temple "protects a nation's spirit as well as its traditions and spiritual life." She was happy to share it with the Cleveland community on this day because to not do this would be like "wrapping a present and not giving it."

We left the Quan Am Temple and went directly to the 2014 CAMEO Picnic which was held this year in the picnic area near Middleburg Heights City Hall. We always enjoy attending a CAMEO event because, as was said by Cuyahoga County Councilman and Candidate for Cuyahoga County Executive Jack Schron, "it generates a lot of positive energy." And judicial candidate Shannon Gallagher said that her family told her that CAMEO picnics usually bring good weather with them which was true for the last couple of years as well as for today.

CAMEO President Pierre Bejjani was quite pleased with the turnout which exceeded that of 2013 and credited most of the success to CAMEO Vice President Tony Abdulkarim. Besides Mr. Schron and Ms. Gallagher many political candidates and officials showed up today for at least a few minutes including Ohio State Rep. and Candidate for Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, Ohio State Rep. Nan Baker and Cuyahoga County Councilman Dave Greenspan as well as several judicial candidates like Francine Goldberg, Matthew McMonagle and Michael Silwinski. Also dropping by were Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French, Domestic Relations Judge Janet Rath Colaluca and Common Pleas Court Judges Maureen Clancy and Joan Synenberg.

We spoke to Ms. Jenny Maldonado who works with Mr. Bejjani at "Profile News" and learned that her niece Juliza Roman is a bilingual secretary at Margaret W. Wong and Associates.

We introduced ourselves to Garfield Heights Municipal Court Judge Jennifer Weiler and spoke to her for a couple of minutes about immigration. Judge Weiler told us that she sometimes she has to deal with foreign born defendants whose prospects of remaining in the United States and/or eventually becoming a United States citizen might be damaged if they were to plea "guilty" or "no contest" to certain charges so she always urges them to consult a lawyer before they enter their plea.

One thing that we liked about today was speaking with Mr. Ralph Sfeir, a young man who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon when he was 17. Today he is a senior at CSU studying Mechanical Engineering. He will also become a United States citizen on August 1st when he takes the oath. Mr. Sfeir was very excited about his prospects and we were happy for him.

When it was her turn to speak Ms. Sherrie Miday, candidate for Common Pleas Court Judge, urged everyone there today who was not a CAMEO member to please join. Earlier in the afternoon we spoke to Parma Clerk of Courts Marty Vittardi who would have concurred with Ms. Miday because he told us that he believed that CAMEO was a "good civic organization that is always there to help the community and was made up of good people."

We didn't find out about the 11th Annual Sharing Ramadan Iftar Dinner that was taking place that very evening of Sunday, July 20th, at the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland until the very last minute when we were at the CAMEO picnic that afternoon so we called our dear friend Ms. Julia Shearson, Executive Director of the Cleveland Chapter of CAIR, who told us to come on over and she would find us a seat which she did. In fact, more than several people from the CAMEO picnic turned up for the Ramadan Dinner like Mr. Pierre Bejjani, Mr. Ken Kovach, and Dr. Asim Datta.

We sat with Professor Joe Konen who is now retired from OSU and Ms. Paula Campbell who recalled attending a leadership workshop with Ms. Margaret W. Wong back in the 1970's and really liked her. Also at our table was Ms. Sairah Zaidi who worked as a paralegal for Margaret W. Wong and Associates for about 10 months in 2009-2010 before she moved on but has fond memories of her experiences with us.

We walked around the room (which probably had about 600 people inside of it) and had greeted old friends. We also had a very good conversation about immigration to the United States with Dr. C. Jean Mosley Hall, Associate Professor at Cuyahoga Community College. Dr. Hall was particularly concerned about the headline-grabbing situation of the children detained at the United States/Mexican border and we agreed with her.

Of course, the program was excellent but several moments really stood out. The first one was when U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach spoke about hate crimes and acknowledged the pressure that the Islamic community had been under since 9/11. U.S. Attorney Dettelbach said that "your strength inspires law enforcement and we stand with you. We take strength from your community."

Another noteworthy moment was when Ms. Julia Shearson gave an impassioned speech about the need to oppose Ohio HB513, a controversial bill that is concurrently being reviewed by the judiciary committee which would ban the application of Islamic Sharia law by the courts. Ms. Shearson urged all of their attendees to contact their legislators and make it known that they do not want this bill to be approved and signed into law.

Tonight's Keynote Speaker was Mr. Anand Giridharadas, an author and columnist who read some powerful passages from his nonfiction book, "The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas" which told of a man who was both an air force pilot and a Microsoft engineer in his native Bangladesh before he immigrated to the United States where he was forced to take employment as a convenience store clerk in Dallas, TX. Following 9/11 he was the victim of a hate crime involving him being shot in the head by a white supremist and almost killed. Ironically, the aftermath placed opportunities before him that would not have been there otherwise and he became very successful financially. What was so moving about the story was that the man who was shot forgave his attacker (who killed two other people in his post-9/11 burst of violence), became his friend, and even pleaded for his attacker's life after he was sentenced to be executed.

To be sure, Mr. Giridharadas has some reservations about the economic system of the United States but said that he could think of no other country where so many people of different ages, races, income levels, and religious beliefs could gather together in one room as we were doing on that evening.

We recalled the words of Ms. Neda Farooqi, the emcee, said in her welcome in the beginning of the program which were, "the CAIR Sharing Ramadan Iftar truly reflects the great diversity of our community and our region. We have members here from many faith communities and we appreciate their willingness to share the spirit of Ramadan together with us...Bringing people together to partake and share with one another is not merely a social exercise, it is a divine injunction, an injunction that, when practiced in earnest and in good faith, may help us to create and build a more peaceful, harmonious, and sustainable world."

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