Palestine Fundraiser
OMEN Production
Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, CA

November 15, 2000
review by Bobbie
Giarratana

photos by Susie Poulelis

 

 

On November 15th 2000, the United States Organization for Medical and Educational Needs (U.S. OMEN) held a fundraiser for emergency relief to Palestinians. "Established in 1961", according to the evening's program," US OMEN has assisted refugees and the sick and destitute with medical and educational needs, in the Middle East and other parts of the world." This production marked U.S. Omen's fundraising launch for Palestinian aide and presented an evening of first-rate performances including solo vocalists, children's dance troupes, and choir.

According to artistic director Lorna Zilba, the concert was originally conceived months earlier as an event to aid the Dehisce refugee camp, but as the tumult grew in the Middle East the project expanded to incorporate ideals beyond monetary and medical aid. "Using a cultural event as a platform not only introduces the organization to a wider audience, it also raises the audiences consciousness, leaving them with a sensitivity to certain issues," she said in a recent interview. Lorna feels that the arts are the most powerful medium to access the human spirit, and November 15th certainly touched us all.

Dr. Adil Jadallah, President of US OMEN, opened the evening with a sobering plea to recognize the gravity of the situation, and reminded us that "if we had 8,000 acute injuries in California in the last few weeks, we ourselves would be overwhelmed." Cooperation from a Jordanian-American organization, from the San Jose Ramallah Club, and from the Basque Center Christmas Benefit has succeeded in raising over $65,000 of the total $150,000 goal for acute care needs.
To entertain and inspire generosity, the producers offered their audience treats, beginning with a traditional Palestinian debke from the Westwind International Folk Ensemble. From there it progressed to the George Lammam Ensemble playing classical Arabic music featuring violin, accordion, derbekeh, & percussion. Their second piece was a subtle and powerful accordion/violin duet with occasional flashes of rhythm from the percussionists. It was a gorgeous piece and it made many in the audience cry with obvious homesickness.
A poetry intrerlude with Lorene Zarou_Zouzounis was a "Tribute to the Mothers of the Middle East," and featured Lorna Zilba's interpretive dance along with moving words honoring the strength and courage of the mothers who bear witness to this crisis. Lorna's dance was elegant and spirited. She has been dancing all her life and it shows. Her free-form style was truly a Martha Graham experience. Later in the evening she pulled out the Raks Sharki and brought the house down.

One of Lorna's comments that night was an answer to a question many
entertainers have heard:

"How can you sing and dance when people are dying in the streets?" She answers herself, her own question, "How can you NOT dance? Both pain and pleasure are expressed through dance; every aspect of our existence is motivated, moving energy. Besides, the arts preserve culture and keep it alive instead of only having the bad memories left... Theater is a great dream, a sacred space where people bring their hopes, fears and imagination... the dream is to see Palestine live."

Other acts included a capella Mawaal vocals with Elias Khoury, Asad Shahsavari's Persian Oud and Avaz vocals, the Lifedance Theater, GREGANGELO the Egyptian Whirling Dervish, and the Aswat Classical Arab Choir. All the performances that evening were brilliant and worthy of extended praise, but the group who received the most applause was the Temur Koridze Children's Dance Company.
Their tribute to Palestine included a dance from western Georgia, a Russian men's duet, some solo numbers, and a Greek "Syrtaki" dance. The Adjaruli" was a fast-paced, high-stepping dance that challenged the children. Their expressions of determination and concentration illustrated the level of dedication they maintain for dance. They profoundly moved the audience with their grace and beauty.

The cultural and humanitarian aims of the production succeeded in serving the dual purpose the organizers hoped for. The audience was not only entertained by several fantastic performances, it was also educated and therefor left the theater with a sense of purpose and understanding.

For more information on US OMEN, contact the Northern California Chapter at: PO BOX 16308 SF, CA 94116


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