Brooklyn’s Salaam Club Honors Three Community Leaders at Annual Holiday Gala

Celebrating a proud heritage, the Salaam Club of New York, one of Brooklyn’s oldest civic groups, held its 73rd Annual Holiday Gala on Sat., Dec. 8 at El Caribe Country Club in Mill Basin. The lavish event brought together over 250 guests including community leaders, clergy and club members.

The Salaam Club was founded in 1945 by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in Bay Ridge and was formed as a cultural fraternity of business men of Middle Eastern descent. It originally served as a means to allow these civic leaders to help serve their community.

Since its inception, the club has raised and distributed more than $650,000 to various charitable organizations.

In 1994, the Salaam Club Community Fund was established to benefit local organizations such as the Guild for Exceptional Children in Bay Ridge and the St. Nicholas Home on Ovington Ave.

The Salaam Club Foundation, which conducts turkey drives, donates funds to the Salvation Army and helps children in need and senior citizens, was formed in 2008.

Each year, the foundation holds a dinner dance and selects a recipient to receive the funds raised at the dinner. In 2013, the foundation donated the $190,000 it raised to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Among the distinguished guests attending this year’s event were Majdi Ramadan, counsel general of Lebanon in New York, General Fadi Daoud of the Permanent Mission of Lebanon at the United Nations, Habib Joudeh of the Arab American Association and former Salaam Club presidents including Honorary Consul to Lebanon John Abi-Habib, Pierre Dabagh, Joe Elhilow, Gregory Lutfey, Tony Msallem, Ralph Succar and George Jalinos.

Jalinos served as master of ceremonies for the evening and introduced club member Adel Baghdady, who performed a stunning rendition of the national anthem. Gala Chairperson Dr. Pierre Hindy thanked his committee for all its hard work in planning the evening’s festivities, and outgoing president Joseph Avignone thanked the members for all their dedicated service.

The Man of the Year Award was presented to Michel Rabbah, sub-deacon at Saint John II Maronite Catholic Church in Tarrytown.

Rabbah lost his house and business during the war in Lebanon. He came to New York in 1987 seeking a better life for his family. He began working at the Lebanese mission and eventually relocated his family from Lebanon in 1989. In 2017, he retired from the diplomatic life and now devotes his time his church.

“I have always told my children that to live a good life you need a strong foundation like a mighty oak tree or the cedars of Lebanon,” Rabbah said.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was Dr. George Ferzli, a professor of surgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn. He is also director of the Fellowship in Minimally Invasive Surgery and a pioneer in laparoscopic surgery. Ferzli has published over 150 articles and 30 surgical textbook chapters.

The Community Service Award was given to Rev. Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian-American who was born in Bethlehem in 1968 and emigrated to the United States in 1992.

Before recently moving to Florida, he served as pastor of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church and competed in the 2017 Democratic City Council primary. He is currently the subject of an award-winning documentary detailing his social activism and desire to promote unity between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Elhilow introduced El-Yateem as someone who “helped bring our community together while other communities were falling apart.”

El-Yateem thanked Elhilow for introducing him to the Salaam Club and encouraging him to join. “When I came to this community in 1995 I decided not to be a pastor of a church but to be the pastor of a community, and it has been a phenomenal relationship,” he said.

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