Festival showcases Lebanese faith, culture through food, art and more

By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick
For The Sooner Catholic

NORMAN — Hummus, tabouli, cedar trees, Farouz, and dabkeh: Lebanese culture came to Norman Saturday, April 27, at the second annual Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival.  Hosted by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Mission, the festival offered visitors the opportunity to experience and taste the rich Middle Eastern culture brought to the United States by Lebanese immigrants.

The sunny, slightly cool weather was perfect for visitors to appreciate the variety of performers who shared their talents.  The University of Oklahoma's Lebanese Student Association performed the traditional dabkeh dance, which is characterized by vigorous stomping and a semicircular arc.  Dressed in black vests with matching pants topped by small red hats for the men and beaded red pants with white shirts for the women, the group showcased more difficult forms of the dance before teaching the basic steps to festival attendees.  Approximately 40 attendees joined the dancers, creating a dabkeh-dancing semi-circle stretching across the festival tent. 


Brett Bertucio, who attended while visiting from Washington, D.C., said that he had a great time at the festival. "I loved the food, and I was so happy to be invited to dance the traditional Lebanese dance."

Other performers included youth dancers from Our Lady of Lebanon in Lewisville, Tex., who performed traditional dances, and singer Elite Khalil, who filled the tent with haunting Arabic melodies.  Her program included dabkeh songs as well as music from influential Lebanese artists Fayrouz and Zaki Nassif.  In the evening, the Raks band with singer Eddie Adwi took the stage.

The performers were a highlight for Cami Khouri, a youth member of Our Lady of Lebanon. 
"I love the performers," she said. "Some have come from Canada and Texas to perform in our festival.  I love to share the food and dancing with visitors."

Her cousin, Rana Jazzar, enthusiastically concurred about sharing the Lebanese cooking with visitors.  "I like showing my friends from All Saints' [school] the food," she said. 

The rich food was certainly a highlight for the hundreds of visitors who came and went throughout the day. Well-known Middle Eastern fare, including falafel, hummus and pita bread were served alongside equally delightful stuffed grape leaves; kibbeh, a fried croquette made with bulgur, minced onion and ground meat; and kafta, ground beef with herbs and spices.  Archbishop Coakley, who stopped by on his way to celebrate confirmation at St. Joseph's parish, enjoyed the Beirut Special with baklava for dessert.

Stan and Sherry Krukowski of St. Mark's parish in Norman also enjoyed the cuisine.  Stan said his favorite part of the day was the baklava, while Sherry added, "The Beirut plate was great because it had a variety of dishes from Lebanon you wouldn't normally get to try.  Plus, it's like home-cooking."

The event also included kids' games, arts, crafts, a bake sale, Lebanese souvenirs and an information booth on Lebanese history, language and geography.  Beautiful photos of the mountains, trees and rivers of Lebanon were displayed alongside informative facts about the country.

Another source of information about Lebanon was award-winning journalist Mike Boettner, who lectured on his time covering events in Beirut and elsewhere in the Middle East.  Boettner related his experience working as an investigator among terrorist cells and spies.  He gave a riveting account of his interview with the leader of Hezbollah in an unknown location in south Beirut in the summer of 2001. 

Overall, the day was a great success.  Father Sami Chaaya, pastor of the church, said, "We felt faithful to our ancestors that we have tried our best to portray to the larger community, the richness of 6,000 years of history, found in a small mountainous country called Lebanon."

Parishioner Najla Keddissi explained the aim of the day, "The most important thing for us is if the visitors are liking their time.  We hope our parish grows and people love our culture."

The parish also hosts visitors the last Sunday of every month for Mass at 11 a.m. followed by lunch in the parish hall.

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick teaches junior high mathematics at All Saints Catholic School in Norman, Okla.