On Monday evening, November 19th, we went to the Rotunda at Cleveland City Hall for the 8th Annual Celebration of Lebanon Day in the City of Cleveland commemorating 75th anniversary of Lebanon's Independence, brought about by the termination of the French Mandate over Lebanon in 1943.
The evening was organized by the American Lebanese Community Council (ALCC) whose purposes (as stated on Facebook) include:
to preserve, enrich, and promote our Lebanese heritage and traditions through educational, cultural and charitable activities
to establish and maintain the Lebanese Cultural Garden at the Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation
to interact with local communities to increase public awareness of the Lebanese culture
to create understanding and unity among the Lebanese people and the community
We are pleased to report that Margaret W. Wong and Associates, LLC was one of the three event sponsors, and thus we had our own table. Since seats were available, we were happy when our good friends Mr. Joe Meissner, Ms. Gia Hoa Ryan, Mr. Ken Kovach, and Ms. Erika Puussaar offered to join us there.
Very appropriately, a welcoming ambiance was established early on as invocations were given by both Msgr. William Bonczewski, Pastor at Our Lady of Cedars Church, who is a Catholic and by Imam Ramez Istambouli, Professor at CWRU, who is a Muslim.
Emcee duties were fulfilled by Ms. Leana Orra, the daughter of the late Dr. Mahmoud Orra, who was honored in the course of the program. Also playing an important part in the proceedings was our very good friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani who was described by Cleveland City Councilperson Matt Zone as "a true champion of the Lebanese people".
In addition to Councilperson Zone, speakers included Councilperson Kerry McCormack; City of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish who all brought citations in honor of Lebanon Day also.
Cuyahoga County Executive Budish was particularly eloquent when he reminded us that Cleveland is indeed an immigrant city and that our strength lies in our diversity if, and only if, we seek to "respect and understand" each other.
On this occasion, several people were recognized for their contributions to the local Lebanese community and they were:
Ms. Natalie Ronayne, Chief Development Officer for Cleveland Metroparks for her contributions to the planned Lebanese Cultural Garden. Mr. Bejjani described Ms. Ronayne as "one of the most dynamic people in the Cleveland community who takes on difficult tasks and gets them done. Ms. Ronayne accepted the honor with humility by saying that she wasn't so sure that she was as great as Mr. Bejjani claimed that she was so this will motivate her to work harder. With a smile, she said that she loved to garden and offered to help out with the maintenance of the Lebanese Cultural Garden.
Mr. James Kassouf, President and Chairman of the Kassouf Family businesses. Mr. Bejjani said that that ever since he, himself, first came to Cleveland some 37 years ago he has known Mr. Kassouf and testified that the latter was always available to assist people who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon via providing them with employment and educational opportunities. Ms. Orra described Mr. Kassouf as a very successful individual who never lost sight of his Lebanese roots and had thus done a lot to help his church (i.e. St. Elias Church) and his community. Unfortunately, Mr. Kassouf was out of town but his son, Joe, was there to accept the laurels on behalf of his dad.
Dr. Mahmoud Orra who is now deceased but in the course of his lifetime he left an indelible mark on both the Lebanese community and the Northeast Ohio community as a whole. Mr. Bejjani described him a "true humanitarian" who used his talents to help countless people. Even though he could very sadly not be with us, his family was there and very touched by the tribute. His son Mr. Michael Orra, a law student, said that his father worked with people of great diversity and as a medical practioner, he was able to establish common ground with them all. Mr. Orra went on to say that he hoped that the practice of celebrating Lebanon Day would continue so that the young people might learn from those who came here before them.
Other activities of the evening included a dance performance by the Ajyal Dance Group and a well-researched presentation by Ms. Julia Bejjani (the daughter of Mr. Pierre and Ms. Mary Bejjani) about the genesis of the Lebanese Cultural Garden. Along these lines, Mr. Bejjani was happy to report that the process was indeed moving forward and that the ground-breaking for the garden should take place within the next several weeks.
Near the conclusion of the program, Ms. Blanche Salwan came forward to sing a song that she learned as a child living in Lebanon which she dedicated to her beloved native land. Ms. Salwan acknowledged that she immigrated to the United States some 53 years ago but "Lebanon was never lost to me" and thus remains beautiful.
Ms. Salwan went on to say that she hoped that all of those of Lebanese descent are appreciative of their heritage and hoped that we could all continue to come together as one "and let nothing tear us apart."