By Denise Dick
When Al Adi, owner of Downtown Circle Deli, organized the first Arab-American Community Festival downtown two years ago, he didn’t know what to expect.
“The first year, we had 2,000 people and then the second year, it was 3,000,” Adi said. “This year, I’m expecting 4,000 or more.”
It’s a way for members of the Mahoning Valley’s Arab-American community to showcase their culture.
West Federal Street, between Phelps and Hazel streets, was closed all day Saturday through 1 a.m. today for the event, which included food, music, dancing, cultural displays and activities for children.
This year’s festival is drawing people from Pittsburgh, Akron, Cleveland, Canton and even Chicago and New Jersey. They’ll see how well the festival goes in Youngstown and may start one in their own communities, Adi said.
Saturday night’s slate of entertainment included belly dancers, musicians and dabke dancers. Dabke is a traditional Arab group folk dance.
Eyad Abu-Rahma a Liberty native who now lives in Washington, D.C., working for Al Jazeera, the television network, was one of the emcees as well as filling in wherever Adi needed him.
The committee that made the festival happen includes about 75 people. About 120 families are members of the Arab American Center for Culture and Education on Belmont Avenue.
There’s talk of expanding next year’s festival to two days, Adi said.
Jose DeOliveira of Youngstown came to the festival with his four children, Victoria, 8; Raisa, 14; Kimberlly, 6 and Joseph, 2.
“My wife said there was something going on downtown today, so we came down to check it out,” he said.
His wife works at the Draught House.
Victoria surveyed the offerings and gave it her approval.
“It’s good,” she said. “Especially the Bounce House — just like I like it.”
Raisa too, was impressed.
“It seems to be very cool,” she said.