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Out & About in Cleveland

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Pulaski Day Ceremony and Turkish Coffee Night

On Saturday, October 18th, the first event that we planned to attend was the annual Pulaski Day ceremony near the Pulaski Monument in downtown Cleveland. We started off for the event but before we turned off the freeway we received a call from Mr. Francis Rutkowski from the Polonia Foundation who told us that due to the wind conditions the ceremony had been moved to the Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV) post on Professor Avenue in Tremont so we changed direction and headed over there. One could write a lot about General Kazimierz Pulaski but a brief overview in Wikipedia reads that he was "a Polish nobleman, soldier and military commander who has been called "the father of the American cavalry.Born in Warsaw and following in his father's footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland (the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth). Pulaski was one of the leading military commanders for the Bar Confederation and fought against Russian domination of the Commonwealth. When this uprising failed, he was driven into exile. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolutionary War. He distinguished himself throughout the revolution, most notably when he saved the life of George Washington. Pulaski became a general in the Continental Army, created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion and reformed the American cavalry as a whole. At the Battle of Savannah, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was gravely wounded, and died shortly thereafter."

In 1929 the U.S. Congress passed a resolution naming October 11th as Pulaski day and in 2009 the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution, largely through the efforts of former Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on General Pulaski which was signed into law by President Obama. General Pulaski is only the 7th person in U.S. history receiving this honor.

There were quite a few of us in the relatively small veterans' post so; with the chilly, wet weather outside; it was a very cozy gathering. People got to stand and introduce themselves and we told everyone that we were from the office of Margaret W. Wong and Associates. Several people who were there like Mr. Robert Rybka, Chair of the Pulaski Day Celebration Committee, knew Ms. Wong and were glad that she realized the significance of this event. Reverend Eric Orzech gave the Innvocation and the Benediction. He said we enjoy the right to congregate because of the sacrifices of people like General Pulaski so we need to live our lives as good citizens and to be respectful of the noble causes of Polonia. Cleveland City Councilman Tony Brancatelli echoed this when he said that we have many liberties in the United States largely due to the sacrifices of people like General Pulaski.

Our friend Dr. Mitch Bienia, National Director of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, was introduced to give the principal address. He started off by saying that he it had been quite a search to find some books written about General Pulaski but he finally did find some interesting materials. Dr. Bienia said that it was his goal to go beyond what was usually said about General Pulaski each year and impart some noteworthy trivia. He listed many personal characteristics that General Pulaski was said to possess and the ones that stood out for us were that he was amiable of heart, sublime of virtue, fought with the force of 10 men, hated paperwork, and liked to work independently. He mentioned that General Pulaski saved the life of General George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine by leading a counterattack that allowed General Washington and his men to carry on with their retreat.

Dr. Bienia went on to talk about the barriers that Congressman Kucinich encountered in obtaining honorary citizenship for General Pulaski and Judge Diane Karpinski mentioned that what finally clinched it was that General Pulaski had served in the U.S. armed forces and was thus entitled to citizenship.

We met a couple of people at this ceremony who were themselves immigrants from Poland. First, we spoke with Mr. Stan Figura who immigrated from Poland about 30 years ago when he was either 11 or 12 and became a United States citizen shortly afterwards. He is a professional draftsman and owns his own business which is Cadd Resources. He says that what he likes about the United States is that it offers "a lot of opportunities for business and education."

Then we spoke with Mr. Tom Kacki who immigrated to the United States from Poland when he was 20 years old in 1993. He became a United States citizen in 2000 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies from Ursuline College. He now works for the Clerk of Courts in Seven Hills and believes that "the United States is the best country that there is. You can truly feel free in this country and I will challenge anyone who disputes this."

Another man we talked to on this day was Mr. Tom Matia who is a member of this post but had never been to a Pulaski Day celebration before. He told all of us that he really likes getting in touch with his Polish roots.

We looked up the Congressional Record that Congressman Kucinich or one of his staffers presented each year on Pulaski Day. It concludes with the words, "an American hero, General Pulaski's life and legacy serves as a reminder of the vital contributions and great achievements by Polish immigrants within our Cleveland community, and throughout America."

Our next stop was later in the day at United Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lakewood where we attended the 60th Season Anniversary Concert of the Cleveland Latvian Concert Association (CLCA). Today we were treated to a program of beautiful music presented by Ms. Inga Slubovska, soprano with the Latvian National Opera, and Mr. Agnese Eglina, on the piano. For both these artists, this was their first time visiting the United States as well as their first stop on a 10 day concert tour.

We were warmly by greeted by Ms. Astrida Riders, an organizing committee member, who remembered us from when we attended another concert event earlier in the year. She, herself, had immigrated to the United States from Latvia in 1942 and had become a United States citizen in 1950. Ms. Riders took us over to say hello to our good friend Ms. Anda Suna Cook, President of the CLCA, who told us to be sure to say hello to Ms. Margaret W. Wong and then introduced us to Ms. Dace Asperans, the honorary chairperson of this event who drove all the way from New York City to be with us on this day.

When it came time for Ms. Asperans to speak, she made remarks that also appeared in the souvenir booklet which included:

“Today we celebrate a cultural and musical miracle! The 60th birthday of the first Latvian Classical concert organization founded in North America!..During six decades, the Latvian Concert Association of Cleveland has remained true to its founder’s goal, of presenting outstanding concerts of Latvian classical music by Latvian musicians to audiences in the greater Cleveland area…the CLCA has expanded upon its original goal, by inviting young and talented Latvian musicians to perform in its concerts, as well as generously donating to various cultural initiatives…”

Also coming a long way to be here was Mr. Karlis (Karl) S. Steinmanis, Esq., the Honorary Consul of Latvia in Ohio. Mr. Steinmanis lives in Cincinnati but he and his wife flew in from Florida to be here. Mr. Steinmanis praised the CLCA for maintaining such a high quality standard over the years and noted how difficult it was to keep such organizations together.

Needless to say, Ms. Slubovska and Ms. Eglina were wonderful and Ms. Cook said that it was “worth waiting 60 years for these performers.”

We also got some help in identifying the leaders of the CLCA from Ms. Liga Zemesarajs who was sitting near us. Ms. Zemesarajs is a first generation Latvian American whose parents both separately immigrated from Latvia to the United States after World War II where they met and got married, settled in Garfield Heights and had two children. Ms. Zemesarajs learned English in kindergarten and has been attending this church since she was a child; in fact she now works in the Latvian Credit Union. We discussed immigration and she told us that most of the people who leave Latvia settle in England or Ireland because they find jobs there; relatively few immigrate to the United States at this time.

Everyone here was very proud that the CLCA had made it to 60 years and hoped that it would continue. Ms. Aperane said, “I am convinced that the Latvian Concert Association of Cleveland, with its great passion for Latvian music and its performers, will continue to build on a wonderful legacy of excellence in the years to come, and in doing so, enrich and uphold the unique and rich musical heritage and traditions of Latvia and its people.”

Our last stop for Saturday was Turkish Coffee Night at the Turkish Cultural Center. As we have said before many times, we love going here at the end of a long day because we can sit back and relax and visit with people that we know and people that we just met. Of course, we are always treated to some great food that we have to refrain from eating too much of.

On this particular night, we made a new friend with Mr. Michael Perrins who is from the United Kingdom and is the new Director of the International Program at St. Edwards High School in Lakewood. He really wants to do a lot with his job like expand the exchange student programs because “the world is smaller and the young people must prepare.” He is working with the Cleveland Council on World Affairs and hopes put together a big conference to explore what can be accomplished in October of 2015. Mr. Perrins also teaches history and politics. We exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch.

We saw our good friend, Ms. Laura Fruscella and met her delightful husband, Dale with whom we stood in the food line. Dale is very funny and is the first one to admit that he doesn’t speak as many languages as Laura does but that’s all right because he “speaks the language of the common man!” We thought that they made a good pair.

We shared a table with our friend Mr. M. Isam Zaiem from CAIR as well as Dr. Rovnat Babazade, Mr. Mustafa Ada, and Ms. Kayla, a teacher from Noble Academy in Euclid. We all engaged in a discussion about the current political situation in the Middle East, particularly concerning Turkey and Syria.

Each Turkish Coffee Night has a short but interesting presentation and the one for this evening concerned Noah’s Pudding or Ashure and was given by Mr. Murat Gurer’s wife, Ms. Seyma Saritoprak. We learned that Noah’s Pudding is a Turkish dessert that is a mixture of grains, fruits and nuts. It is served during the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, on the 10th day. The reason that it is called Noah’s pudding is because when Noah’s Ark finally came to rest after the flood, all that was left of the food was mixed together to form this pudding which was eaten in celebration and started a tradition. Typically Ashure/Noah’s Pudding is prepared in large quanities to distribute to friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. without regard to the person’s religion or belief system. Ms. Saritoprak mentioned during the course of her presentation that Ashure/Noah’s Pudding is a sign of peace, the coming of peace, and a bright future. It symbolizes friendships, good relations with one’s neighbor, and universal peace and understanding.

We believe that these words could also be applied to the Turkish Cultural Center.

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