By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Mahoning Valley’s thousands of Arab-Americans will share their culture Saturday at the inaugural Arab-American Festival of Youngstown on West Federal Street, downtown.
The festival is the idea of Al Adi, owner of Downtown Circle and Middle East deli, which is on the same block as the festival.
Adi said the idea for an Arab-American festival came to him on the first day he opened his store last year.
“When I first opened, it was on a day that the [Greater Youngstown] Italian festival was going on,” he said. “I saw how happy people were, sharing their culture, and it hit me ... w e have thousands of Arabs in the area, and we should do the same.”
Not long afterward, Adi approached the city to set the gears in motion. He contacted Arab organizations to get them involved.
He hopes to expose Valley residents to the rich culture of the Arab people to foster understanding.
“America is a compound of different cultures from all over the world,” he said. “Each has its own way of living, and when people share their ways, it enriches America’s culture.”
Adi also wants to shine a positive light on the Arab world, especially in the wake of the anti-American violence that has taken place recently in several Muslim countries.
“I want to put the Arab community out there, because there is a lot of negative media coverage,” he said. “I want to encourage understanding by showing the public what the Arab culture is about.”
But the Arab-American Festival, which will feature free admission, will be about fun, not politics. It will be similar to the many other ethnic festivals in downtown and across the Valley, with food specialties, entertainment and cultural displays.
The festival will include food from just about every Middle Eastern restaurant in the area. Tony Eid, an Arab singer from Cleveland, and dance troupes will entertain on a stage, while Arab cultural items will be sold and demonstrated.
West Federal between North Phelps and North Hazel streets will be closed to traffic. A stage will be set up at the Phelps end, with an 80-foot tent covering seats. Another tent will be set up at the other end of the block to house cultural displays of the represented nations.
The festival will include stands from the following restaurants: Mary’s Restaurant, New Castle, Pa.; Damascus Restaurant, Niles; El Ham Restaurant, New Castle, Pa.; Goodie’s Mediterranean Restaurant, Austintown; Zenobia, Canfield; Al Sham, New Castle, Pa.; Phoenician Grille, Boardman; Jerusalem Market, Liberty; Oasis Restaurant, Boardman; Roberto’s, Youngstown; and the Downtown Circle.
Food will include every Middle Eastern specialty, including shawarma, falafel, shish kebab, hummus, kibbee, tabouli, grape leaves, and Arab sweets and coffees. Beer and liquor will also be available.