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Iftar Dinner and Social Solidarity; Simply Slavic outdoor festival

As we know, and we quote the definition provided by the Turkish American Society of Cleveland (TAS), "Ramadan, in the Islamic tradition is the holy month of Muslims all around the world during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset and worship as much as they can compared to all other times. Recitiing the Qur'an, performing Tarawih prayers and fasting are the three elements of Ramadan which makes it unique and significant for Muslims, together with many more attributes of the month."

This year Ramadan runs from May 26th to June 24th, 2017 and so TAS arranged for several Iftar dinners to take place at different locations throughout the Cleveland area during this time period.  We decided to attend the one scheduled for Friday evening, June 16th, at the Highland Heights Community Center. We have attended Iftar dinners before, most recently on June 1st, at John Carroll University, and have written about them for this blog but we never tire of going due to the friendliness and fellowship that we always encounter.

This attribute of "social solidarity" is what the Scholar in Residence at John Carroll University emphasized during a presentation that preceded dinner. A slide concerning the celebration of Ramadan in Islamic countries stated, "neighbors invite each other and people share the food that they cook with their dinner is given at city centers for the poor..." We learned that there is a three day celebration at the end of Ramadan called "Eid al-Fitr" (aka "Bayrami" in Turkey) in which people make a special effort to visit with their neighbors, elderly relatives and friends.

We, ourselves, enjoyed visiting with the people sitting with us who included a young Christian man who works at the Cleveland Clinic and loves learning about other cultures and faiths and a young scholar who recently immigrated to the the United States from Turkey with his family due to the current political turmoil. In addition, many people recognized us from the events we have attended at the Turkish Cultural Center in Lakewood and walked over to say hello.

On Saturday, June 17th, we drove to Youngstown for the "Simply Slavic" outdoor festival that took place in the downtown area.

As our program notes stated, "Slavic people can be identified by ancestry, culture, and language. These modern European nations have majority Slavic populations: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Combined, the Slavs form the largest ethnic group in Europe. So if your ancestors came to North America from one of the above countries, the chances are pretty good that you are at least part Slav!..."

Certainly, we also enjoyed some great European food including some delicious vegan pastries and plenty of cheese and potato perogies. For coffee (we can't go without it even on a blisteringly hot day the way that Saturday was), there was a "Joe Maxx Coffee Company" located right next to the festival where we met a very nice couple named Walter and Darlene who have been coming to the "Simply Slavic" festival for some six year's now because they love the strudel and the sausage. When they heard that we were from the Cleveland area, they suggested several local European bakeries and eating eating establishments for us to try out.     

During the opening ceremonies, we were addressed by Father David Mastroberte from St. John's Orthodox Church in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Father Mastroberte talked about how the proud Slavic heritage was represented by many churches in the Pennsylvania/Ohio region of the United States.

Of course, as he maintained, Slavs are no different from other ethnic/cultural groups-one cannot say that they are believe and act in the same fashion and many factions do not always get along with each other. Thus, this is why this this festival is so important, it is a place for all Slavs to come together and celebrate their differences as well as what they have in common.

After prayers, Mayor John McNally of Youngstown and visiting Mayor Jan Volny of Spisska Nova Ves (Youngstown's Slovakian sister city) joined in a toast to each other, to friendship, and to ongoing good relations between both cities in the future. Mayor Volny spoke for a moment (via a translator) and expressed his thanks to all who immigrated to the United States along with their ancestors for being aware of where they came from, having knowledge of their roots, and preserving traditions.

After the ceremonies were over, we introduced ourselves to Mr. Ken Shirilla, the main coordinator of the festival, who brightened when we told him that we worked for "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" because he has known Ms. Wong for years.

Another person who was there that we knew was Ms. Laurel Tombazzi (who we saw about two weeks ago at the Carpatho-Rusyn Vatra) who was acting as the Mistress of Ceremonies. We settled back to watch performances from such musical groups as the Del Sinchak Orchestra, Lucina Slovak Folklore Ensemble (directed by our good friend Mr. Tom Ivanec who walked over to say hello to us), and the Happy Hearts Junior Tamburitzans.

For us, what was truly memorable about the day was when Father Mastroberte asked us to rise above our differences and make this festival such a place of "peace, good will and friendship" that it will inspire others to adopt the same attitude. This is because what he was saying here mirrored what was said the previous evening at the Iftar dinner about the need to establish community and fellowship. This impressed us greatly.  





Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC