(December 2018, Plain Press) In the first floor Rotunda at Cleveland City Hall, on November 19th, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson welcomed a crowd of over 300 to the 8thAnnual Celebration of Lebanon Day in Cleveland and the celebration of the 75thAnniversary of the Independence of Lebanon. Jackson noted the importance of cultural diversity to the development of the city and thanked the Lebanese community for their many contributions to the city of Cleveland in areas ranging from business to education. Jackson went on to say that while Lebanon is celebrating its 75thanniversary of the country’s independence, the Lebanese people have been around for thousands of years.
The American Lebanese Community Council (ALCC) hosted the event which featured a presentation of a planned Lebanese Cultural Garden; speakers; awards; a catered Lebanese dinner; entertainment; and dancing.
Festivities began with Mistress of Ceremonies Leana Orra greeting the crowd, followed by a presentation of the colors by members of the United States Army. Richard Anter III sang the American National Anthem and Father Naim Khalil, Pastor of St. Elias Melkite Church, sang the Lebanese National Anthem.
Following the singing of the two national anthems, Monsignor William Bonczewski , Pastor of Our Lady of Cedars Church, and Imam Ramez Istambouli, a Professor at Case Western Reserve University, each offered a prayer.
Guests at the dinner were welcomed to Cleveland City Hall by Mayor Frank Jackson and City Council representatives Kerry McCormack and Matt Zone. County Executive Armond Budish spoke briefly acknowledging the contributions of the local Lebanese community.
American Lebanese Community Council Chairman Pierre Bejjani presented awards acknowledging the contributions of three individuals to the Lebanese community.
Natalie Saikaly Ronayne was honored with an award acknowledging her contributions to promoting and preserving Lebanese culture and heritage in the community. Saikaly Ronayne, a resident of the Edgewater neighborhood and the Chief Development Officer for the Cleveland Metroparks, participated in the planning and design of the Lebanese Cultural Garden proposal. ALCC Chairman Pierre Bejjani, in presenting the award, thanked Saikaly Ronayne for her participation in the endeavor.
The next honoree, James Kassouf, a Cleveland area businessman and real estate developer, received an award acknowledging his generosity and community involvement. Kassouf’s son Joseph accepted the award on his behalf. In presenting the award, Bejjani praised Kassouf for his advocacy in Washington D.C. on behalf of Lebanon.
The third award went to the late Dr. Mahmoud M. Orra, who founded and practiced for many years at Westshore Family Practice in Cleveland. In presenting the award to Dr. Orra’s family members, Bejjani noted Dr. Orra’s compassion and service to patients with limited resources – noting Dr. Orra frequently offered free health care to low income patients. The ALCC award also noted Dr. Orra’s efforts to provide free healthcare to remote villages in Lebanon.
Following the presentation of awards, Julia Bejjami outlined plans for a future Lebanese Cultural Garden as part of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park along Martin Luther King Boulevard. Julia Bejjami said the plans for the cultural garden have been completed and submitted to the City of Cleveland. ALCC is awaiting a permit so they can begin work. She said the garden will feature an iIconic cedar sculpture as the main focus of the garden, a story board wall, a cedar grove, lighting, a seating wall and a gathering area. Bejjami encouraged those present to make donations or to sign up as volunteers to help with the effort to create and maintain the garden.
Following the presentation of the plans for the Lebanese Cultural Garden, the Ajyal Dance Group entertained the crowd with a performance of Lebanese dancing.
Dinner followed the performance, with Tabanji Catering providing guests with Lebanese dishes such as fattoush, stuffed grape leaves, kibbeh, hummus, and baba ghanouj, as well as, Lebanese pastries for dessert.
The evening ended with a raffle while guests danced a traditional Lebanese dance, the dabke, to the beat of a drum provided by Num Num Media.