Palestinian Heritage Foundation 

Newsletter of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation
    Volume 7, No. 2                      December 2001     

نشرة مؤسسة التراث الفلسطيني

A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in NY City

The Museum of the City of New York announces the expansion and new opening date for the exhibition A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City, Originally scheduled to open on November 17, 2001, the show has taken on a new and greater significance in the aftermath of the events of September 11 and has been relocated to a larger gallery space within the museum.

After consultation with the exhibition’s advisory team, which includes scholars, community representatives, and artists, the museum has decided to enlarge the scope and content of the exhibition. It will open on March 2, 2002, and will run through Labor Day.

New York City claims distinction as the oldest port of entry for Arab immigrants to the United States. As such it supports one of the country’s most diverse populations of citizens of Arab descent. A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City, the first exhibition on the history of the City’s Arab populations, will introduce visitors to this diverse group of New Yorkers, who share a linguistic heritage-Arabic- and cultural traditions dating back more than 1500 years. It will tell the story of how and why people from Arabic-speaking countries first came to the City, where they have chosen to live, and how their presence has changed the food ways, the sound waves, and the look of some of the City’s neighborhoods.

The exhibition will emphasize the long history and diversity of New York’s Arab population, which includes Christians, Muslims, and Jews, people of many ethnic and national background, and recent immigrants as well as citizens whose roots in the City go back for generations.

More than one hundred objects, including archival and contemporary photographs, documents, books, costumes, textiles, and household objects, illuminate the cultural and commercial contributions Arabs have made to the City and the values and traditions that have connected them over five generations.

The Museum of the City of New York presents A Community of Many Worlds as part of its mission to foster understanding of the City’s diverse heritage. The need for tolerance in these troubled times makes this mission particularly pressing. For centuries, New Yorkers of all backgrounds have sought to maintain personal and cultural traditions while adapting to a heterogeneous culture. New York City’s Arab communities have in the past and continue to exemplify this effort.

Funding for exhibition implementation was provided by a challenge grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, which was matched by a major contribution from the Olayan Group. Additionally, important support was received from Council member Kenneth K. Fisher, the George Sayour Foundation, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation, the Islamic Heritage Organization, Arab Bank plc, the Arab American Institute Foundation, Gulf Bank International, and many individuals.

The Museum of the City of New York is a private, non-for-profit, educational corporation founded in 1923 for the purpose of presenting the history of New York City and its people as a significant learning resource. The museum advances its mission through exhibitions, educational activities, and publications and by acquiring, preserving, and documenting original cultural materials which reflect New York City’s history.

Foundation to Honor Walid Khalidi at 15th Anniversary Banquet

The Palestinian Heritage Foundation will celebrate its 15th Anniversary in April 2002. This event will coincide with Palestine Land Day, celebrated each year, in memory of seven Palestinians from the village of Sakhnin, Upper Galilee, who gave their life in defense of their land.

On this special day, the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and the Arab-American community will honor Professor Walid Khalidi.

Professor Khalidi was born in Jerusalem, Palestine. In 1945 he received his Bachelor Degree from Oxford University. Upon completing his Masters Degree he became a University lecturer at Oxford where he stayed until 1956. Part of Professor Khalidi’s rich academic career included the position of Professor of Political Studies, American University of Beirut, Lebanon (1957-1982), Research Associate, Princeton University (1960-1961), Fellow, Center for International Relations, Harvard University (1976-1978), Visiting Professor of Government, Harvard University (1978-1981) and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University (1982-1997). Professor Khalidi has written many articles in Arabic dailies and periodicals, including Al-Ahram, Al-Hayat, Al-Nahar, etc. He has written for English periodicals such as Foreign Affairs, The Middle East Journal, Journal for Palestine Studies, Politique Etrangere, World Today, and for English dailies such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe and others.

Syria: Land of Civilization
By Diane Barsa

Treasures from ancient civilizations of Syria the last summer captivated visitors to the First Riverfront Arts center in Wilmington, Delaware. This world class exhibit of almost 400 artifacts was arranged by the Musee de la Civilization de Quebec, the Ministry of Culture Directorate general of Antiquities of the Syrian Arab republic, and Museums of the Syrian Arab republic.

Marble relief ca. 727 AD, Qasr al-Hair al-Gharbi.

Prior to the premier in the United States, the exhibit had been in Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel, Switzerland: Musee de la Civilisation, Quebec, Canada, and the Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It is scheduled to open February 15 at the Fembank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia where it will run through May 20, 2002.

The exhibit begins with the origin of civilizations. The oldest artifact is a flint hand ax from approximately 1 million years ago that attests to the presence of a human ancestor, Homo Erectus, in present day Syrian territory. Neolithic artifacts dating from before 100,000 BC show the improvement in workmanship which was required in order to make the tools necessary for early survival.

As relationship developed and groups created internal organizations, societies formed. The environment dictated what types of organizations were necessary and it is believed that the distribution of water through a system of canals was the environment, which lead to well-structured social organizations within early Syria. The need to create and control food led to specializations which in turn created social stratification.

By 9000 BC, agriculture and animal husbandry had advanced as people began to create new tools and learn new ways by which they could use animals. Items such as loom weights on exhibit proof are of weaving.

Grinding stones and sickle blades show that men were processing plant foods more efficiently. Once cultivation of plants and raising animals were firmly established, and the organization which allowed the distribution of food was functioning, it was possible for some members of the society to have free time to dedicate to other tasks.

Lion headed eagle ca. 2500 BC, Mari, tell Hariri.

The first products that were a result of times being available were items related to food consumption such as bowls and utensils. Next, luxury items became possible. Local raw materials such as flint, clay and gypsum allowed experimentation by some, which lead to items, which decorated dwellings as well as individuals. Items such as ceramic vases, decorated with the popular bull’s head motif or a painted fish, were used within the dwellings.

Some vessels were carved out of alabaster and shaped like animals such as a hare, ram, pig, or bird. Figurines of animals and people were popular and carved from bone or stone. Bas-reliefs decorated dwellings and they told stories of life’s events. Jewelry was first made by using a variety of local materials such as stone and bone.

As technology advanced and trade brought in new items and techniques, gold, semi precious stones and glass paste jewelry adorned the people.

Just as trade with other civilization lead to new products and ideas, it also expanded the economy. Visitors to the exhibit viewed tools, instruments, utensils, containers, and weapons. The earliest objects are of native stone. They are followed by clay, fired to make all types of vessels. Metal works show the thread used to create filigree jewelry. progress made in technology from early solid gold objects to fine braided gold Glass, from early faience beads to molded objects and then the first blown glass show approximately 5,000 years of pyrotechnical development.
Objects and technology were not the only exchanges between early cultures. As Syria’s early inhabitants became aware of the larger world, their knowledge of belief systems widened. It was natural for them to seek to understand the world and events around them. The artifacts they left for us to ponder must have given them a sense of from where had they come. Figurines and bas-reliefs might have reminded them of the myths and legends used to give them an identity. Religion and its places of worship were created. Free-blown glass wares from the 4th and 5th centuries.

In the beginning of such beliefs, human forms represented gods. Clay female forms from 9000 BC are the earliest such figures found. The exhibit traces the various gods through time and by materials. Terra cotta figurines of both males and females date from 5000 to 2000 BC. A basalt Stella to the goddess Ishtar if from 1800 BC. A limestone statue of the god El dates to 1300 BC as does a bronze and gold figurine of Baal. A marble and limestone mosaic of Hercules date to AD 300.

Eventually Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all claiming the ancestor, Abraham, and sharing a single God, ridded Syria of previous gods.

Early religious practice had to deal with death. How was a body to be prepared for the hereafter? Burial practices changed over the thousands of years and only a few are reflected in the exhibit. The areas earliest burials date from 40,000 BC when the skull was removed from the skeleton