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Middle Eastern festival sparks solidarity

Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church holds event, supports Syrian community


After the Syrian government allegedly killed more than 1,400 people using chemical weapons Wednesday, Aug. 21, President Obama proposed limited air strikes in the area, sending a message of condemnation to the Middle Eastern country’s leaders and igniting international debate.

Here in East County, the executive declaration set-off a wave of reactions varying from support to disapproval, and struck a chord with members of Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, many of whom are Syrian.

Like Obama, the church also will respond to the Syrian crisis, but instead with a celebration of their cultural and ethnic roots.

The congregation located off Northeast 162nd Avenue and Halsey Street will hold their Middle-Eastern festival Sunday, Sept. 8., an annual event given extra meaning this year in the wake of the conflict.

by: FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Volunteers from Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church assemble date and walnut mamool in preparation for the upcoming Middle Eastern Festival in this 2011 photo. “A lot of our congregation are Syrians and are worried about our families and loved ones there,” said Michel Teeny, silent auction coordinator and media outreach spokesperson for the church. “This festival is hopefully an outreach for them to bring them together and help cope with anxiety, fear and concerns so they can socialize and network together.”

The festival will celebrate its 36th year Sunday and offer a wide variety of activities to support parishioners and educate the community on Middle Eastern affairs.

From noon to 7 p.m. the parish will host a selection of cultural activities designed to promote unity and understanding, such as Middle East folk dancing and food booths.

“We do it to honor our Middle Eastern traditions and empower orthodoxy in Portland,” Teeny said. “It’s a way to gather the community and neighborhood together, and get everyone involved to show people our traditions, culture and food.”

Entertainment will include two free mini-concerts at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. by the local choral group Cappella Romana.

The festival also will sell traditional food items, such as barbecued chicken kebabs, gyros, falafel and spinach and meat pies.

The Middle Eastern festival was originally founded as a fundraiser by a handful of members in 1972, but has since grown to attract visitors from across the state and requires the collaboration of dozens of church members, who range from Egyptians to Lebanese to Jordanian to Ethiopian.

“We are open to everybody,” Teeny said. “And hope new crowds will show this year.”

A children’s tent will offer young ones games and activities, including a bouncy house.

While munching on Middle Eastern treats and drinks, adults can peruse the silent auction or purchase icons, jewelry, books, CDs and baked goods inside the parish hall.

For those interested in learning more about Christian Orthodoxy, tours will be offered periodically throughout the afternoon. Visitors can learn about orthodox teachings and history, while viewing icons located throughout the premises.

“We’re there to explain food, tradition and cultures,” Teeny said. “It’s a way to address misconceptions about Middle Easterners and Christian orthodoxy.”

For more information, visit www.stgeorgeportland.org or call Michel Teeny at 503-307-8494.

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