Old Country + New Country = Great Country

My grandparents all came from Lebanon to the United States (Massachusetts) when they were in their late teens.

They started arriving in 1910.

In their culture and in that era, being a grown teenager meant they were full-fledged adults, with the privilege of making it on their own in America.

My grandparents all met their respective spouses here in the Berkshires.

My Jiddoo Betros settled with his wife in Great Barrington.  Her legal last name was George and she had been living in North Adams.

My Jiddoo Massery settled with his wife in Pittsfield.  Her legal last name was Hashim and she had been living in Fall River.

Three out of four of my grandparents were direct descendants of the Nejaime family (Bayt Nujaym) and the name Massery was linked to the town of M’aaser they came from.

When my parents were born, both in 1925, it was simply understood, they would marry within their clan.

So many important things about their upbringing would have been lost, had they married Americans (Amri’kaan).

Social gatherings (Sahadas) at my folk’s house on Loumar Drive in Pittsfield were common.

The word “sahada” was derived from the base word “saha,” which meant health.

The health of the culture was intrinsically connected to these gatherings, centered around food and conversation.

They drank a little Arak, but I never remember anyone drunk in our home, ever–and that includes me.

The relatives sold alcohol at liquor stores and package stores with their names on them, but rarely abused it themselves.

If you bought a six-pack around here in the last 100 years or so, chances are you traded with “the family.”

Betros’ Market–Hashim’s Package Store–George’s Liquors–Nejaime’s Wine Cellar…

You can’t make this stuff up.

It was also common to entertain family from the old country (Al B’laad).

When that happened, everyone in the living room, (a special place that I was not allowed to enter, unless it was to give a boos to Amoo Toufic) English was not spoken, only Arabic.

I heard enough of it as a child to learn the proper pronunciation and intonations of Arabic words and phrasing.

I speak  broken Arabic now, mostly when I travel to big cities.

When I do greet a Middle Eastern native, driving a cab or handling my luggage, they know that I’m connected to Lebanon, based on my accent, which I surely picked up from my parents and their many sahadas.

Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis 12 inspired this post.

The LORD said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

Abram went as the LORD directed him.

When God calls us out, like He called my grandparents to America, He does not ask us to leave behind our culture, He simply asks us to leave behind a piece of land on which we stood.

His wish is to share the blessings we received from Him in our old country and bring it to our new country, weaving our culture like tapestry with those we meet.

When we go back in time, carrying forward our love of country and culture, it’s a true joy to share good things that make us unique with people of good will…our neighbors.

A day hardly goes by when a local (Amri’kaan) does not complement me, my humoos, or one my many relatives in the area.

My dad often said “a person not proud of his background is a person ashamed of his own people.”

I’m proud of my background, but more importantly, I’m proud that who I am is a crucial ingredient to the mix that makes America what it is.

Who you are is just as important.

Be proud of it, share your culture, no matter what it is, and America will be a better place–that’s God’s promise.


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