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History of the Druze in America 1991 to 1994

Ajaj Andary

American Druze Society
1991. Dallas, Texas

The 45th Annual Convention was held from July 2nd through July 7th, 1991. The President of the Society was Ajaj Andary, Vice President: Behjat Jurdi, President Elect: Muneer Zaineldeen, Board members: Emad Aboulhosn, Sara Aboulhosn, Toufic Alghawi, Raja Aridi, Walid Farhat, Fouad Halaby, Ghassan Khalek and Dr. David Najar. National Treasurer: Sahar Muakasa

The Convention Chairperson was Raja Aridi and the convention committee members were: Mark & Katia Hamdan, Halim Zaidan, Hala Azzam, Maan Baz, Marwan Aridi, Ramzi & Houri Kaedbey, Ziad Dalal, Hani & Judy Chtay, Mazin & Ramzi Aridi, Ramzi and Hafez Ghraizi, Yasser Elnemer, Richard Assed, Abdul-Magid Ghreizi, Linda Al-Awar and Jihad Attar.

The success of the 1991 Convention at Dallas, Texas was crowned by the attendance of our scholar and highly respected authority on religion Sheik Salman Masri. Sheik Masrie’s wisdom, eloquence and open-minded views enriched the convention participants. Dr. Anis Obeid, Dr.Wahbah Sayegh and Dr. Mohammed Halaby translated for the audience the lectures, presentation and question and answer sessions held during the convention. Sheik Masri also visited California and met with the Druze community at the Cultural Center where he emphasized the importance of strengthening the relationship among the Druze community and their country of origin. Sheik Masrie’s presentation centered on understanding the faith and the Unitarian teaching of the Druze faith.

Sheik Masri also visited the states of Indiana, Michigan and Connecticut. The Boston and Connecticut chapters invited Sheik Masrie for dinner and to lecture on the Druze faith. Druze members attended this event from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire . The Lebanese Ambassador to Canada, Dr. Assem Jaber was the main speaker at the “President’s Night.” Dallas Convention was very enriching and cultured.

In 1991 the National President Ajaj Andary and the National Board of Directors intensified their efforts to improve and implement the programs to increase membership, to improve communication and to encourage the youth participation. The National President, Ajaj Andary, appealed to the chapters to hold one social-cultural activity per year where the proceeds would be donated to support the ADS Cultural Center in Southern California. An Ad Hoc Committee to reorganize the American Druze youth was formed by Nezar Andary, Mazin Chami and Toufic Alghawi. Nezar Andary corresponded with the American Druze youth and sent a detailed outline of the objectives and goals of the newly formed “Bani Ma’arouf” Youth Committee.

1992. Rutherford, New Jersey

The 1992 Convention was held at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel from June 30th through July 5th. The President of the Society was Muneer Zaineldeen and Vice President Raja Aridi. Board members: Ajaj Andary, Sara Aboulhson, Toufic Alghawi, Haitham Ballout, Babette Israwi, Ramsey Kaed Bey, Julie Makarem, Dr. David Najar and Dr. Samer Elrayess. National Treasurer: Sahar Muakasa.

The convention chairperson was Lina Rasamny and convention Co-coordinator was Sami Merhi. Convention Committee: Linda Kanso, Houssam and Ghida Halaby, Ghassan El-Eid, Nabil Kassem, Nezar Andary and Aida Farhat.

The 1992 Convention was successful in both social activities and in interesting seminars. The convention was highlighted by the presence of the distinguished scholar and theologian Sheik Anwar Abou Khzam, who had been invited by the National President and the Board of Directors to attend the convention and meet with the American Druze Community. Sheik Aboukhzam was able to communicate with the young adults on a person to person basis because of his excellent command of the English language. He also gave three informative lectures about the Druze faith which was appreciated by everyone.

Other honored guests at the convention were His Eminence Metropolitan Philip Saliba, His Excellency Ambassador Simon Karam of Lebanon, Dr. Clovis Maksoud and the Honorable Antoine Chedid.

Following the convention, Sheik Anwar Abou Khzam visited California and gave a very scholarly and informative lecture on the Tawheed faith at the ADS Cultural Center.

President Muneer Zaineldeen established new committees such as “Career placement network,” “Kids Camp in Lebanon,” and an “International Fund Raising Committee. “President Zaineldeen in his message to the community stated that “the success of any program depends on the community members participation.” He encouraged the Druze community to pull together and support the establishment of career placement network, contribute to the fund raising Committee to help pay the principle loan on the Cultural Center in California.

The Southern California Chapter and the community started developing programs, sponsoring activities and establishing procedures to raise funds to support the Cultural Center. Barbara Israwi, Leila Masri and other ladies supported the promotion of the food certificate program. Ray Najar donated six months of his time to organize and help raise funds for the Center. Casey Kasem and his wife Jean sponsored a Haloween Party at their home. The Chapter board of directors raffled a car to help in raising funds for the Cultural Center. An Arabic School started to teach the children the Arabic language.

1993. Miami, Florida

The 47th Annual Convention was held at the Doral Resort and Country Club from June 29th through July 4th, 1993. The president of the Society was Muneer Zaineldeen, Vice President: Raja Aridi, President Elect: Sami Merhi. Board members: Toufic Alghawi, Dr. Samer Alrayess, Haitham Ballout, Ziad Dalal, Maan Hamdan, Ramsey Kaedbey, Julie Makarem and Dr. David Najar. National Treasurer: Sahar Muakasa.

The convention chairperson was Toufic Alghawi and the Convention Co-Chairman was Akram Jurdi. The convention committee members: Wissam Alghawi, Hind Richani, Diana Hassan, Nisreen Alghawi, Nadim Halabi, Lamia Israwi, Adel Radwan, Mark & Katia Hamdan, Bassam Abi Faraj, Salah A. Ghannem, Akram Boughannam, Sleiman Timani and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Miami Chapter.

The 1993 Convention at the Doral Resort and Country Club in Miami, Florida was a model in organization and all activities were well planned. Functions started on time and finished on time. CORA held a seminar on “The Fundamentals of Tawhid Faith”. This was chaired by Dr. Mohammed Halabi. CORE program included a video on the Druze of Palestine presented by Zaidan Atshe. An Arabic Poetry Symposium was held chaired by Dr. Anis Obeid and Fouad Ghannam. There was also Athletic competitions (ADS Olympics), children’s programs, picnic, Beit Al-Yatim program, music and entertainment. The main feature on Saturday night was the wonderful performance of the South Florida Chapter Debke Troupe. There was high praise for Toufic Alghawi, Salimi Azzam and the Miami Community for a job well done.

For health reasons Muneer Zaineldeen was unable to attend this convention and vice-president Raja Aridi chaired the business meeting.

The main historical event of 1993 occurred on October 9,1993 which was the Grand Opening of the ADS Cultural Center of Southern California. As a result of the continuous and tireless efforts of Salim Israwi and his commitment to the well being of the Druze Community this event was made possible. Salim Israwi arranged with the help of his friend Dr. Ray Irani , the visit of H.E. Walid Jumblatt to the ADS Cultural Center in Southern California. Prior to the Grand Opening Celebration, Dr. Ray Irani hosted a $1000 a plate luncheon honoring Mr. and Mrs. Jumblatt at the Occidental Petroleum Headquarters. The proceeds from this function was paid toward the principle loan of the Cultural Center.

This historical event was highlighted by the presence of Dr. Ray Irani, Occidental petroleum Board Chairman, Dr. Farid Abboud, Lebanese Council General, Mr. Dory Shamoun, Mr. Hani Salaam, Judge James Kaddo, Sheik Ziad Kasfi, and Mr. Casey Kasem, Mr. Sami Merhi, ADS National President, Mr. Ghassan Saab from Michigan, Mr. Abdul Majid Ghreizi and family from Texas; and Mr. Wajih Al-Awar from Seattle, Washington; members of the ADS National Board; and many others from the Southern California Arab American Community.

Ms. Misner, representative of the City of Eagle Rock, presented the ADS Chapter president with a certificate of congratulations on the opening of the ADS Cultural Center; certificates of welcome for Mr. Walid Jumblatt and Mr. Hani Salaam; and certificates of appreciation for Dr. Ray Irani, Mr. Salim Israwi, and Mr. Casey Kasem.

The symbolic ceremony of cutting the ribbon to officially open the ADS Cultural Center was performed by Mr. Walid Jumblatt and this was followed by a tour of the center for the distinguished guests. Later they joined the hundreds of people who came from all over the world to celebrate this historic event. The event was covered by the Arabic Press and local TV Stations.

1994. Long Beach, California

The 48th Annual Convention was held at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel from June 27th through July 3rd, 1994. The president of the Society was Sami Merhi, Vice President: Salimi Azzam Joseph, Past-President; Ajaj Andary. Board members: Toufic Alghawi, Dr. Samer Alrayess, Haitham Ballout, Ziad Dalal, Maan Hamdan, Ramsey Kaedbey, Julie Makarem and Dr. David Najar. National Treasurer: Sahar Muakasa.

The convention chairperson was Fouad Barakat and the Convention Co-ordinator was Ajaj Andary. The convention committee members were: Aboud Assaf, Rima Ghosn, Ranya Ghosn, Mahiba Merhi, Nasiba Abu-Hamdan, Soad Abul-Hosn, Hamad Nawfal, Bassam Abou-Shakra, Bud & Sami Wehbe, Adel Salaheddine, Nidal Ramadan, Emad Hassanieh, Hussam Barakat, Yasser Andary, Neman Takieddine, Leila Masri, Fouad Hariz, Nabila Aboukhzam, Khaled Zahr, Nezar & Janan Andary, and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Southern California Chapter.

The 1994 Convention was very successful in terms of various activities, seminars, lectures, sports, entertainment and honored guests. Mr. Halim Hamd discussed the “Reconstruction” of Lebanon” and one of the best received seminar’s was about various Role Models given by young Druze Professionals. Another memorable event was the all day visit to the ADS Cultural Center, the feast served to 400 people and the address of Dr. Salah Salman on “Future of the Druze”. The famous poet, Mr. Samih Al-Kassem from Palestine was our Guest of Honor. He recited many exciting poems on Friday Night. Also, Mrs. Nazek Abed addressed the convention on the role of “Women in Lebanon”. H.E. Minister Anwar El-Khalil was the keynote speaker on Saturday night. Later that evening everyone was very much entertained by the Southern California Debke Troupe as they danced and did performed skits for the audience. It is important to mention that the Ladies auxiliary under the capable leadership of Nabila Aboukhzam and the young adults, under the leadership of Rima Ghosn, and Mahiba Merhi contributed much to the success of the 1994 convention.

Sami Merhi, the National President, began the year 1994 by introducing the “Life Membership” plan to help guarantee a stable financial base for the ADS. He visited and corresponded with many Druze Scholars, Theologians, poets and professionals from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine and extended an invitation to them to attend the 1994 Convention. He called on the 15 chapters to establish a fund raising plan to help reduce the ADS cultural Center in Southern California’s principal loan. He encouraged the participation of the young adults and passed a resolution by CORA to adopt the publication of the book, “On Druze Identity” by Nezar Andary. Julie Makarem proposed the establishment of a Druze Women’s Dormitary in Beirut to house the female students who live in the outlying areas to be able to attend universities in Beirut.

On Jan. 26th 1994 the American Druze Community had to say farewell to Uncle Nafe Katter of Saginaw, Michigan. Uncle Nafe, was a founding father and pioneer in the services of the Druze Community. Prior to his death, he requested the National Board to have the 50th Convention in the State of Michigan. The Board obliged Uncle Nafe’s request unanimously.

On July 18, 1994 Bobby Jaber, sent out the first issue of Dialogue to students and young adults. Bobby Jaber also has been in charge of our needy children’s program for many years. He has as been an active participant in the Conventions and ADS from the early beginnings.

It is very important at this time of our history to emphasize the importance of having a Druze Cultural Center in Southern California and what this means to our people in terms of achievement, pride and caring for the future generations. During 1994 - 1995, the Southern California Chapter President, Ajaj Andary and the local Board of Directors planned and sponsored many social, cultural and religious functions at the Druze Center. Some of these are as follows:

Monthly family Day which takes place on the First Sunday of every month. Pot-luck luncheon, special children’s programs, games, videos and social activities take place during this day with no society business discussed except announcements.

Eid El-Adha Celebration.

Sahra Karawiya - the Ladies Auxiliary sponsors the event at the Druze center to show the traditional evening gathering in a Druze village.

Arabic School - This is the pride and joy of the Druze Community. The school teaches more than 65 students from the Druze and Arab-American Community. Mrs. Asmahan Masri is the Principal and the teachers Nabila Aboukhzam, Jinan El-Rayes, Iqbal Wahbe, Neda Andari, Nazek Zeitouni, and Hoda Wahbe are volunteer teachers on a regular basis.

Cultural Events - The Southern California Chapter encourages cultural activities at the center such as plays and famous Arabic musician and composers.

Thursday Night Prayer - The Majlis at the Cultural center has been open every Thursday evening for the community to come and pray.

The cultural Center was used for Honoring Dignitaries. On October, 1994, the Lebanese Minister, Rida Wahid, and the Lebanese delegation were honored and a reception-dinner honoring Dr. Farid Abboud, the Council General of Lebanon was held prior to his return to Lebanon.

New Year’s Celebration at the Cultural Center.

Beit El-Yateem Day is held every year at the Cultural Center. Mrs. Afifi Masrie and the Mother of the Yateem, Anisa Assaf sponsor this event which is supported by all the Druze Community.

The Center is also a place to celebrate weddings, birthdays, graduations, Mother’s Day, Young Adult’s Social Nights, and a place where funeral services take place.