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HERITAGE
Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
  
         Volume 7, No. 1                                     June 2001
             

 

PHF 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, and 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. A 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 community.

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 offerings.

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 exciting project.

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 the country.

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 visitors.

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 Crosse, Wisconsin

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 Munayyer.

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.

 

Foundation 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 years ago.

$4000 In 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 as possible.

 

Association 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 work.

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 treatment.                                                                                                            

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 environment.

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 Bethlehem, Palestine

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 pottery.

 

 

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