The 20th annual Assyrian Food Festival in San Jose

The 20th annual Assyrian Food Festival in San Jose, CA  hit record numbers.  Over 14,000 people attended this year’s two day event.  Filled with activities, exhibits, and an array of delicious dishes of kabobs, dolmas, and traditional stews.

This was our opportunity to introduce our Assyrian culture to the mass of people who attended the festival.  You are first greeted by our gated entrance the “Gate of Life”, as in ancient times, and go to the information booth and get an Assyrian passport. The passport is actually a guide to the festival, with a schedule of events, information on the layout and explanations of what the different food offerings are.

Gate opened at 11am and the shuttle vans were already starting their travel to and from the parking stations with a steady flow of festival goers.  The smoke from the kabob station was rising into the air and the ladies were loading up the food booths with their well seasoned dishes.  Everything was rolling, Samovar Alley had started making Chai and serving sweets.  The Assyrian coffee was flowing – helping to stir up the crowd.  The musicians and singers were beginning their two days of entertaining the crowds.

Day 1 progressed into a huge party, people were laughing, dancing, eating and drinking and enjoying the beautiful weather.   Some escaped the outdoors and came into the Church hall were they found a new addition to the festival – Indoor Dining , A Cultural Experience –  we were serving Assyrian specialty dishes.  These dishes were “chef’s choice” just like the cook in the home makes their daily dishes.  This was a hit, the menu continued to change throughout the day, from Kipte (Assyrian meatballs),  Riza beckleh (rice with lima beans), Shurwa (beef stew)… the menu was endless.  We had our Euphrates Wine Bar indoors as well, serving several of the local wines and an array of cheeses and olives.  They were entertained with artifacts and pictures of  archeological digs from the homeland dating back to the 1920’s  and freshly captured pictures of the festival were uploaded on the projection screens. Three chartered buses arrived filled with Assyrians from the Valley coming to attend the festival.

Opening ceremonies began at 3pm with the ribbon cutting at the Gate of Life by His Grace Mar Awa Royel, our beloved Bishop of the Diocese of California.  Along with him was our own parish priest Father Lawrance Namato, and Fr. Genard Lazar from the Diocese.  H.G. led us in an opening prayer and the parade was ready to proceed.  First came the flag of the United States with the National Anthem being sung by Kelly Khoshaba, then the Assyrian Church’s Anthem sung by Ramseena Shallo, Delmona Stepanpour and Edessa Youssefi.  Our Assyrian National Anthem was sung by Raman Betoushana.  The parade continued with the several artifacts that were carried in on beautifully decorated carriages.  Queen Semiramis (Ramseena Shallo) was escorted in on her chariot.  The 70 dancers from the Domara Dance Group  (Domarina Beitpoulice) followed, dancers ages ranged from  4 on up to 25 years of age.

As the day progress into the evening the party was in full swing, the lights inside the canopies were lit and around the dance floor were the festival goers began dancing to the music of the band.  The car raffle was steadily selling raffle tickets for the 2012 Camaro parked in front of the stage.  This continued until 11pm when the evening close for the night.  Inside everyone was already preparing for Sunday’s opening.  This continued until the early morning hours.

Day 2 of the festival began with Holy Raza celebrated by H.G. Mar Awa Royel, and then at 11:30am the festival was again in full swing.  Just as the day before, only this time the hall was fulled, all the tables and chairs occupied by people eating and drinking.  Outside, enjoying the warm weather the kabob area was filled with people in line for the all the different foods coming out from the food service canopies.  Everyone anticipating the drawing of the winning raffle ticket.  Several raffle tickets were drawn for the smaller prizes and those tickets were placed back in the main drum for the grand prize.

Throughout the day we had several government officials arrive and some spoke congratulating our 20 years of festival.  At 4pm the parade again made its way through the festival grounds where thousands of spectators watched and cheered.  The crowds of people were smiling and clapping for the many children who danced for them in their beautifully sewn costumes.  Vendors from around the world were happily selling their goods in our Market Alley.  Also for countless hours the children who attended the festival were entertained and offered a variety of food and drinks in our safe and exciting Hammurabi’s Kid Zone.

At 8pm the moment everyone was waiting for, the drawing of the raffle.  The raffle drum was spun several times and the last rush of tickets being sold and added feverishly to the drum.  The raffle drum was placed on top of the stage and  Fr. Lawrence was called up to pull the winning ticket, I handed him the microphone and he announced the winner of the 2012 Chevy Camaro, Mrs. Marilyn Soro of Chicago, IL the winner!!!  The party continued in full force, hundreds of people dancing khigga to the 4 singers, Walter Aziz, Tamraz Tamraz, Salim Lazar, Rubin Howel and Billy Warda’s Band until the festival closed at 9pm.

With a smile on their faces, all the volunteers who had been working for days on end continued throughout the night returning the Church and its grounds back to normal.  They knew this was a remarkable event unsurpassed by any Assyrian Festival in the past.

People meeting for the first time or reacquainting past friendships all made lasting memories.  By the grace of the Lord we ended our 20th year with much success.

Elizabeth Zia Estensen, Chairwoman
20th Annual Assyrian Food Festival
Mar Yosip Parish, San Jose, California

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