St. Clair-area residents are organizing a traditional Syrian dinner, with an eye to fundraising $70,000 to bring two Syrian refugee families to Ward 21 — and you’re invited.
Supper With Syria is to be held at Artscape Wychwood Barns on Nov. 29, beginning at 4 p.m..
Four prominent Toronto chefs are collaborating with four chefs of Syrian descent to prepare the dinner, to be augmented with live music, trivia, a silent auction, Syrian art and stories about Syrian culture, co-organizer Inna Gertsberg says.
“The idea is to present and celebrate a side of Syria that hasn’t been in the news,” Gertsberg says. “It’s one of the oldest, richest, and most fascinating cultures in the world, but as Canadians we know so little about it because unfortunately all we hear is despair and hopelessness.”
Gertsberg is putting on the event with fellow organizers Lara Zahabi and restaurateur Sang Kim, a self-proclaimed news junkie who has owned eight restaurants throughout the GTA. Kim frequently organizes community outreach events such as ReFOODgee, in which a recent refugee would visit one of his restaurants and cook a traditional meal for an audience while sharing stories about their culture and food.
“When you think about what binds families and communities together around the world, I don’t think anything expresses hospitality, or captures that sense of community more potently, than food,” Kim says.
Both Kim and Gertsberg know firsthand how difficult it can be to transition from one country to another, and how valuable outside support can be during the process. Kim’s family moved to Canada from South Korea in 1975, and he took his first job at 16 to support his parents, with a restaurant owner who let him take excess food home. Meanwhile, Gertsberg’s family was part of a wave of Jewish refugees that fled the USSR in the 1980s.
“We left with a couple of suitcases each and got on the train, and lived in transit countries like Austria and Italy while waiting for our visas, just like the Syrian refugees living in Greece and Turkey,” Gertsberg says.
Eventually her family arrived in Chicago, where two non-profit organizations helped them secure an apartment and find jobs.
“I was 16 at the time, so I probably didn’t appreciate it until much much later, when I started volunteering and helping other Russian-Jewish families,” Gertsberg says — but the experience fed her desire to organize something that would help refugees in Syria.
Zahabi, who is of Syrian descent herself, was born and raised in Lebanon and came to Toronto in 2006 to earn post-graduate degrees from the University of Toronto.
Zahabi has been instrumental in helping connect Kim and Gertsberg with members of Toronto’s Syrian community, ensuring that Supper With Syria will present guests with an authentic picture of the country’s long history.
“They want to show their real face, which is something we don’t see on the news,” Zahabi says. “We see ISIS, and we see the war, and nobody knows that [Syrian capital] Damascus, for example, is the longest-inhabited city in the world.
“They want to show how culturally rich Syria is and people are very excited about that,” she says.
Residents interested in joining Supper With Syria are encouraged to email the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join their Facebook group at www.facebook.com/supperwithsyria.
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