Participates in Arab Community Exhibit at MCNY
A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City at
Museum of the City of New York
By Kathleen Benson
Although the City claims distinction as the oldest port
of entry for Arab immigrants and has supported one of the country’s most
diverse populations of first-, second-, and third-generation
Arab-identified citizens, Arab Americans are among the least examined of
the many immigrant groups in New York City.
To address this problem, the Museum of the City of New
York, which is in partnership with the Middle East Institute at Columbia
University and a team of local Arab and non-Arab scholars, activists,
educators, has undertaken a major initiative to explore this diverse
society. The joint initiative has already produced a two-day scholarly
conference (February 5 & 6, 2000). Currently in progress is a
professional development/curriculum project with teachers in districts
with large presence of Arab immigrant population, to enhance their
knowledge of the subject and increase their cultural sensitivity to the
children they teach. This project will result in the creation of materials
on Arab Americans that can be disseminated in classrooms and made
available to the Museum’s web site.
The culmination of the project is an exhibition.
Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City, scheduled to
open in December 2001. Like the initiative, a primary goal of the
exhibition is to erase the ethnic stereotyping that has impacted this
The exhibition will focus on: the long history of Arabs
in New York City; the diversity among Arab New Yorkers; the cultural and
commercial contributions of Arab Americans to New York; and the
development of an Arab American identity among the many worlds Arabs
inhabit in New York City. It will include photographs, three-dimensional
materials, maps, a time line, and, it is hoped, a specially developed
video, power point or interactive component.
Special workshops and tours will be developed for
teachers and school groups. A variety of public programs are planned to
build on the themes of the exhibition, including lectures on topics such
as “Margin and Mainstream: Arab-New York Identity,” “Becoming
American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience in New York City, and
Migration, Culture, and Community Organization.” In collaboration with
local groups, the Museum will also present musical, literary, and film
programs for general audiences.
Family programs will encompass demonstrations on
traditional Arab music and crafts; storytelling sessions; and Family
History Workshops on conducting oral histories and preserving family
heirlooms. Walking tours of neighborhoods of importance in the history of
Arab Americans in New York City will round out the public program
As part of its programming related to the exhibition,
the Museum will make available on its web site a sampling of images and
text from the exhibition. In this way, people who are unable to visit the
Museum exhibition will have access to it via the worldwide web.
The project team for the Museum’s Arab New York
exhibition represents a wide range of backgrounds and areas of
specialization. Its members are Christians and Muslims, third-generation
and first generation.
Scholar Paula Hajjar, Ed.D., and Philip Kayal, Ph.D.,
have written or edited publications on New York’s Arab populations.
Founders of organizations devoted to Arab American history and culture,
such as Mary Ann Haick of Arab American Heritage association and Hanan and
Farah Munayyer of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation, are lending their
expertise as well as items of material culture from their collection.
Activists include attorney Abdeen Jabara, a founder of
the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Yasmin Adib, a leader of
Palestinian Solidarity, and Mazin Abu Ghazalah, a leading member of the
activist arts organization Al-Awda and the creator of Café Arabica.
Souhad Rafey, arts coordinator at the American Academy of Arts and
Letters, and Inea Bushnaq, writer, folklorist, and translator, are among
the team members who are deeply involved in the arts and culture of the
City and its Arab communities; and educators such as Mona Mikhail,
Professor of Arabic Literature and Islamic Studies, New York University
Department of Middle Eastern Studies.
The exhibition has already received substantial funding
from a number of individuals and private foundations as well as public
sources, including the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York
City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Additional funding will allow the Museum to develop the
video presentation and offer a rich variety of school and public programs,
as well as to market them in order to realize the full potential of this
For further information on contributions to the
project, please contact Michael Lichtenstein, Development Manager, at
extension 237. For information on the exhibition and related programs,
contact Kathleen Benson, Coordinator of City Partners exhibition projects,
at extension 255.
Foundation Fourteenth Anniversary Celebrations
April 2001 coincides with the anniversary of the
inception of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation in 1987. On our
fourteenth birthday, we are proud of the high quality of education that we
have provided to our Arab and American audiences.
Since the Foundation’s Twelfth Anniversary Banquet in
April 1999, the Foundation has attracted more and more supporters. During
the past year, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation was very active in
promoting Palestinian and Arab arts and crafts at several locations around
Saturday, April 1, 2000 the Foundation inaugurated the
“Threads of Tradition” exhibit of Palestinian arts and crafts at the
Jerusalem Fund in Washington D.C. This display remained open to the public
for six months.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Foundation helped in
making Mrs. Beth Noland’s dream come true. PHF mailed out to Mrs. Noland
a package full with Palestinian items to help in making her display more
impressive and complete.
As of two years ago, the Foundation has been serving on
the Museum of the City of New York’s special committee preparing for the
upcoming special exhibit “Arab Americans in New York: A Community of
Many Worlds” which will open to the public next Fall. Also, PHF donated
$1000 to the Museum to help in making this exhibit a success.
Most recently, the Foundation helped Mrs. Ruth Monson
of La Crosse, Wisconsin in augmenting what became known at her church as
”The Bethlehem Event” with Palestinian costumes and embroidery. The
display, which lasted for over a month was seen by more than 4500
Last October, at the Second National Conference of the
Ecumenical Foundation in Washington D.C. PHF presented a display of
Palestinian costumes from the different regions of Palestine and a lecture
by Hanan Munayyer relative to the textile arts in Palestine.
A Story from La
By Ruth Monson
Every four years, since its beginning in 1980, members of English Lutheran
Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin, have presented what has come to be known
as “The Bethlehem Event”, a recreation of the town of Bethlehem as it
might have been at the time of Christ’s birth.
A modest undertaking to begin with in its earlier
years, it has now reached quite a professional level. Four years ago the
event was expanded to include a Middle East “museum” which would
expose visitors to the part of the world into which Christ was born.
Having lived and worked in the Arab world for many years, I was asked to
chair the planning and development of the “museum”. During our years
in the Arab World and frequent travels throughout the Middle East, I had
come to share a great love and appreciation for the wonderful art
treasures found there.
Wanting to add a new dimension to my 2000 museum, I
decided to have a special emphasis on Palestinian costumes and stitchery.
Two years ago, while on a trip to Palestine, I had been given a wonderful
book, Palestinian Costumes by Shelagh Weir, from a Palestinian
friend in Bethlehem. Through THE LINK, Americans for Middle East
Understanding, I had also ordered a beautiful video on Palestinian
costumes produced by Hanan and Farah Munayyer and had in our library the
March/April 1997 issue of ARAMCO WORLD magazine which included an article
on Palestinian costumes “These Stitches Speak” written by Jane
Friedman and “New Images, Old Patterns: A Historical Glimpse” by Hanan
I decided to write to the Munayyers in hopes that they
might be able to send me photos or perhaps a piece or two of stitchery or
simply give me some suggestions for my “museum”.
I didn’t realized it at the time, but I soon learned
I had uncovered “the best of the best” regarding Palestinian costumes
- the Munayyers and Shelagh Weir! The Munayyers not only sent me photos
but also two gorgeous authentic bridal costumes, one from Bethlehem, the
other from Jerusalem.
Art and crafts at English Lutheran Church, La Crosse.
Those two dresses became the “pearl” of my museum
and allowed me to share with over 4500 visitors during the month of
December, “dresses which spoke a beautiful non-political, aesthetic
statement of the human side of the Palestinian people.” This was the key
message that we conveyed to the thousands who came to see the exhibit. We
felt privileged to share these proud examples of Palestinian heritage,
culture, beauty and identity; our visitors were visibly impressed.
The “museum” display contained between other
things: numerous old copper and brass items from Syria, Jordan, Libya,
Egypt, Morocco and Palestine,
including coffee pots, kettles, brass trays,
wedding horns, hand-woven carpets and Bedouins weavings, olivewood items
from Bethlehem including candlesticks, Jerusalem crosses and hard-carved
Nativity sets, hand-blown Hebron glass, mother-of-pearl
jewelry chest froSinai in Egypt and the
Palestinian m Damascus, books from Mount Thobs, representing Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
During the time of the exhibit, I often thought and
wished I could have known and could have met the Palestinian women whose
artistry we held in our hands. I could not help but wonder where their
families and descendants might be today. Unfortunately we cannot know, but
we can only thank those individuals in whose hands this artistry is and
whose mission it is not only to preserve this heritage for their own
people, but also to share its beauty with the Western world.
For this we say, “Thank you,” Hanan and Farah -
thank you for your kindness, your dedication and your vision.
Acquires Additional Syrian Textiles
The Foundation has recently added four
Syrian antique garments to its collection: two black open coats
embroidered with gold metal thread, one embroidered dress from the Kalamon
region and a man’s robe of striped Syrian silk fabric. These 1920-1930
items were purchased from Ms. Barjouhi of Los Angeles, California.
Ms. Barjouhi, an Armenian American of Lebanese
background, inherited these and other items from her late father, who
collected textiles and silver jewelry while living in Lebanon over sixty
Embroidery Sales For Palestinian Camps in Lebanon
For the past thirteen years, the
Palestinian Heritage Foundation has been promoting and selling items of
embroidery produced by Palestinian women living in refugee camps in
Lebanon in order to help Palestinians in the camps make ends meet.
The Foundation is proud to announce that its sales
during the past twelve months have totaled $4000. This amount reflects the
Foundation’s hard work on behalf of our people in the camps, so that
they may enjoy improved medical services, adequate clothing, and better
schooling and nutrition.
Buying one embroidered pillow a year would
substantially improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in the camps.
The Foundation would like to encourage all of its
supporters to purchase embroidered items and give them as gifts as often
Najdeh 20 Years Later
Palestinian Refugee Women & Development
Association Najdeh was established as an independent,
non-governmental organization working in and around Palestinian refugee
camps in Lebanon. Najdeh is celebrating its twentieth year in development
Najdeh’s aim is to empower women - the most
disadvantaged element of the Palestinian refugee community- with the tools
necessary to have a more prominent role in their community.
By becoming more productive and self-reliant, women
contribute concretely to a lasting development of the overall Palestinian
refugee community in Lebanon. These goals are achieved through awareness
raising activities and special programs:
Vocational and Training: Najdeh runs twelve
vocational training centers in all parts of Lebanon offering more than 100
course sessions per year. Such programs secure employment and
self-sufficiency for these women. In addition, Najdeh offers educational
courses in literacy, English language, and scholastic tutorials.
Palestinian refugees embroidering at Ein El Hilweh
Camp in Lebanon.
Social Affairs: The magnitude of socio-economic
difficulties facing the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon renders
them virtually unable to secure a minimum standard of living. Najdeh’s
five Social Affairs regional centers annually target 400 social hardship
families. Provided assistance includes sponsorship, shelter
rehabilitation, partial educational grants as well as partial medical
Pre-School Education: Najdeh has seven
kindergartens and one nursery school targeting 1200 children. The program
provides pre-school education to 600 children as well as educational
summer activities to additional 600 children. The program promotes
consciousness and creativity: interactive games, sports, theatre, reading,
trips, and awareness of cultural heritage, children’s rights, health and
Income Generating Program: This program is
designed to encourage Palestinian entrepreneurial initiatives through a
credit system. Loan beneficiaries are assisted in
establishing/strengthening viable projects aiming at economic
self-sufficiency. Loan projects include: hairdressing salons, agriculture,
and grocery store, sewing, auto-spare parts and construction tools.
Embroidery Production (Al
Badia): Al Badia
embroidery was Najdeh’s first project. Its intrinsic aim is to promote
Palestinian cultural heritage. The project also aims at providing women
with economic sustenance. Al Badia has two embroidery workshops in the
camps of Ein El Helweh and Rashidyeh. The project engages a total of
seventy-seven women in economic productivity.
Shelagh Weir Writes from London
It’s been a long time since we were in touch, but
many congratulations on your evident success in building your collection
and outreach activities.
I read your newsletters with interest. Thank you for
the generous acknowledgment in the December 2000 issue. I must however
correct some inaccuracies in Jeni Allenby’s two articles, and would be
grateful if you could print the corrections in your next issue.
(Page 3) She states that the museum of Mankind ‘….spent
several million pounds…’ on the Palestinian Costume exhibition in
1989. The over-the-counter costs of this exhibition and associated
activities over the two years it was open (publicity, publications,
educational projects etc) actually totaled 259,756 pounds sterling. This
sum does not include staff salaries or other regular museum expenses, but
even if these were costed in, there is no way the overall cost was ‘millions’!
Would that we had had that kind of money - we could have built a special
museum for the project!
I published the accounts of the Palestinian project in
my illustrated report entitled “Palestinian Costumes at the British
Museum, November 1989-December 1991” published in 1994, a copy of which
I’m sending you under separate cover.
(Page 5) Regarding the Jan Macdonald papers, it is not
true, as Jeni Allenby states, that they are missing. Her questionnaires on
costumes, which she and her friends administered in various villages, her
photographs, and her unpublished account of Palestinian costumes, are all
in the library of the Department of Ethnography in the premises of the
ex-Museum of Mankind (now closed) at 6 Burlington Gardens. They can be
consulted there by anyone interested. I should add that the material is
neither detailed nor reliable.
With all good wishes for your future work.
Palestinian Heritage Center
The Palestinian Heritage Center was established in 1991
in Bethlehem by Mrs. Maha Saca, who directs the Center. The Center
features many displays, mainly a traditional Palestinian living room, a
furnished Bedouin tent, traditional items and a gift shop.
The exhibition space is approximately 200 square meters
and can accommodate about 200 visitors.
Available to the visitors at the Center are traditional
Palestinian costumes and other embroidery products like cushions, shawls,
wall hangings veils, jackets and headdresses produced by Palestinian women
working for the Center.
The Bedouin tent contains many items usually used in
such an atmosphere: coffee pots, dairy processing equipment, Bedouin
carpets, musical instruments and a weaving “Nol” originating from the
traditional weaving city of Majdal of the Gaza region.
The Center produces its own gallery of photos that
includes posters and postcards. Such images highlight the beauty of the
dress and the country. These images present the traditional Palestinian
dresses, each with a unique background representing certain cultural
monuments, archaeological or historical sites in the village or city that
the dress comes from.
The Center has a gift shop that provides the visitor
with the chance of purchasing Palestinian traditional works of art like
hand made embroidery items, posters, postcards, pictures, jewelry and