Monday, November 22, 1999

Food's the star at festival


Rich Mideast dishes remind of Lebanon

BY SARA J. BENNETT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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The hands of Rose Emsicke Thomas serve up a helping of stuffed cabbage for Tillie Tanfari on Sunday at the Lebanese Harvest Bazzar at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Church.
(Josh Biggs photo)
| ZOOM |
        The aromas of cucumber, pastry and rich, spiced meat hung heavy Sunday, enticing visitors to the Lebanese festival at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Church in East Walnut Hills.

        Over plates of tabbuli and stuffed grape leaves, families talked about the past week, coming holidays and their homeland. St. Anthony's fall fete allows parishioners to celebrate Thanksgiving with church friends before Thursday's family gatherings. “To me, it's everything,” said JoAnn Clark, 53, of Summerside, whose grandparents came from Lebanon. “Family and unity are very important, and (so is) keeping kids inter ested so it doesn't die out.”

        The parish, which celebrates its 90th anniversary next year, is the spiritual home to Greater Cincinnati's Maronite community.

        Maronite Catholics' ancient rite is affiliated with Rome but retains its own liturgy. Maronites make up most of Lebanon's Christians — who, in turn, constitute 30 percent to 45 percent of the Middle Eastern country's estimated 3.2 million citizens.

        About 300 families are parish members, said the Rev. Ghattas Khoury, St. Anthony's pastor. Sunday's celebration included Americans whose Lebanese heritage goes back as many as five generations.

        And their Maronite community is growing.

        Young people have been arriving steadily since the

        mid-1970s when civil war broke out in Lebanon, said Sonia Daoud, a 69-year-old from East Walnut Hills who arrived 45 years ago.

        “It's really heartwarming,” she said. “They come here and they progress and flourish. They become part of the American community.”

        Whether Sunday's visitors were immigrants eager for a taste of home, or children and grandchildren hoping to learn more about their heritage, the festival offered several connections.

        Pictures showed Beirut perched along the lush shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea.

        Books, traditional water pitchers, religious icons and tableh drums that look like small bongos were for sale.

        But the centerpiece was the food.

        A buffet heaped with patties made of kibbi meat and cracked wheat, spinach pies, hummus, and tangy green bean stew drew repeat visitors.

        At a “Lebanese market” table, people bought fig marmalade, green lentils, rose oil and pistachio paste.

        Steve Misleh, 30, of Anderson Township, lingered over trays of nut cookies and sticky, flaky baklawa. “My mother's is tremendous,” he said. “This is our heritage — our culture. It's good to keep it.”

        Fadi Maroun, a 37-year old Forest Park resident who came to the United States from Lebanon 16 years ago, said St. Anthony and its festivals provide a vital link to home.

        “It gets you closer to the community,” he said. “You speak your own dialect as opposed to speaking English all the time. (It's good) just to come and talk to people about what's going on in general — not just what's happening in Lebanon.”

        Money raised Sunday will go to St. Anthony projects that could include an expanded scholarship program, Father Khoury said. “I hope one day I can also have a school in this place. This is my dream.”

       



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