DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — It was a celebration of all things Lebanese on Monday, Sept. 23rd at a special reception at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister H.E. Gebran Bassil, who was in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly, led the proceedings.
The reception was held in the Grand Rotunda with roughly 200 guests in attendance. The evening’s special honoree was His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlaoui, the Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of New York and North America, who presides over 300 churches.
Bay Ridge civic leader and the Honorary Consul of Lebanon in New Jersey John Abi-Habib served as master of ceremonies and sponsored the celebration along with Bassil, Majdi Ramadan, consul general of Lebanon in New York, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“We were proud to host the Lebanese community at Borough Hall, a tradition here dating back to 2006,” said Adams. “Our #EmbraceYourHyphen campaign reminds us that our diversity makes Brooklyn great. The Lebanese community has contributed and continues to contribute so much to our borough and our city, and our event recognizes and celebrates that.”
Adams presented Al-Zehlaoui with a special citation in recognition of his dedication and leadership of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian church in North America.
Al-Zehlaoui thanked Adams and stressed the need for unity in Lebanon. “The country faces obstacles from within and from the outside,” he explained. “Only then can the Lebanese overcome the difficulties they face.”
Al-Zehlaoui also commended Bassil for “setting a good example through his hard work on behalf of the large and influential Lebanese diaspora all over the world.”
Adams also presented Ramadan with a citation for his dedication to the Lebanese community.
Abi-Habib expressed the important contributions Lebanese people have made to the fabric of New York City and America as a whole.
“For over 150 years, the Lebanese have contributed to the growth of New York City in civil and civic areas such as government, education, finance, real estate, politics, as well as having members in the police and fire departments,” said Abi-Habib. “In fact, it was just a few blocks from Borough Hall that the Lebanese community first settled and opened its first Arabic newspaper, Middle Eastern business and the Pen League, a literary society founded by Lebanese poet and author Kahlil Gibran comprised of Arabic-speaking writers who had emigrated to this country.”
Abi-Habib said that next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Pen League and the 75th anniversary of the Salaam Club of New York.
The Salaam Club was founded in 1945 by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in Bay Ridge and was formed as a cultural fraternity of businessmen of Middle Eastern descent. It originally served as a means to allow these civic leaders to serve their community.
Following the presentations, Abi-Habib invited guests to a reception with Lebanese food and wine.
Also attending the celebration was the Very Rev. Thomas Zain, vicar general and dean of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn Heights and the Very Rev. Michael Ellias, secretary of the Archdiocese and pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Bay Ridge.
“The Lebanese Heritage Reception at Borough Hall was a wonderful gathering of the various communities which comprise the complexity of Lebanon,” Ellias told this paper.
“Both Foreign Minister Bassil and Metropolitan Joseph emphasized the unity within the Lebanese community here in New York and the remarkable coexistence of the various faith groups in Lebanon. I have to give my compliments to John Abi-Habib for organizing this important event so effectively. And if anyone went home hungry that night, it was their own fault! The food was excellent,” he added.