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You Can’t Have Too Much "Patience"

a new recording awakens memories of cool jazz   By Jordan Elgrably  Sinan Işik, a young composer and pianist partially of Turkish heritage now living in Southern California (where his Egyptian-Lebanese heritage also flourishes), has just published his first solo recording, “Patience.” This is one jazz CD I listened to with repeated pleasure. The tempo is cool and the timing is just right. Işik’s cover of Red Garland’s “Blues by Five” is a groovy update on a classic tune, one found, for instance, on Miles Davis’ 1956 album Cookin’.  Here Işik’s quintet gives the piece all the energy it needs, while also imparting that mellow vibe that would make it great theme music for, I don’t know, a thoughtful radio show. Işik’s piano in the piece isn’t overbearing and as a result the other players are heard on the same level.    Continue reading

Multiculti Kids Sunday Debuts at The Markaz

With the theme of The Magic of Language (including storytelling and a magic show), parents arrived with their children at The Markaz on the third Sunday of March as directors Lynne Mangione and Bassam Aljazairi greeted them and settled them into seats with cold drinks.  Twelve children, ages 5-13, gathered in rows of chairs at the front while mothers and a father sat together in the back. Parents were from Morroco, Lebanon, India and the United States and children spoke a variety of languages, including English, Arabic, French and Spanish.  Continue reading

Tweens/Teens Visit The Markaz for Persian Culture/Nowrooz School Trip

At 10 am on March 3, 2016, a bus with 24 kids in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade, along with two teachers, arrived from the Environmental Charter Middle School in Gardena for a two-hour workshop on Persian culture at The Markaz. These students were reading the book Persepolis in their English class and studying the Iranian Revolution. Additionally, their teacher had been teaching them about the issues of diversity and cultural sensitivity. According to English teacher Ginnia Hargins, The Markaz was the only organization of many in L.A. she had contacted that responded to her request for a workshop. Continue reading

We Have A Dream

By Jordan Elgrably   It’s May 15, 2019 and we’re standing on the steps to the lobby entrance of the beautiful and palatial new cultural center and museum for the Middle East and North Africa, known as The Markaz, designed by world-class architects.  Standing with me to welcome visitors are dozens of like-minded friends, who for the past several years have labored in our Markaz Dreamers and Builders Circles* to make this facility a reality. We come from every imaginable country and cultural background, as Southern California has the largest population of citizens from the greater Middle East in the nation. Here at The Markaz, arts and humanities give voice to our dreams for peace.  The Markaz is the word for “center” in Arabic, as well as in Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and Urdu. After many years, we have achieved our dream, which began as the seed of an idea in the year 1999, opened to the public in June 2001 and has for many years presented leading-edge programs on the Middle East and North Africa in Los Angeles. It’s our Grand Opening and throngs of people are lined up around the block as we open our doors to the general public.  Inside at the early opening reception are many Hollywood movers and shakers who have in the past expressed more than a passing interest in the Middle East—George Clooney with his Lebanese wife, Amal Alamuddin Clooney; Salma Hayek-Pinault and her husband, François-Henri Pinault; Sean Penn; Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw; director Peter Berg, who made The Kingdom; and too many more to name. The governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles are also inside, along with the 1,000 other special guests who form the first wave of Grand Opening attendees. The Markaz Dreamers and Builders Circle team has had an opportunity to meet all of these folks and shake hands, before coming back outside to witness these lines around the block.  Another 9,000 people are expected to pass through the doors of The Markaz before we close tonight.  OUR GREAT DIVERSITY The Markaz is a cultural arts center and museum that pays tribute to the intellectual and creative bounty of people from the greater Middle East, which stretches as far east as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Africa, as far south as Sudan and Somalia, and east to the Persian Gulf region, including Bahrain, the Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The Levantine countries and cultures are a centerpiece, highlighting Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the cultures of the Israeli and Palestinian people equally. Iraq has a special place at The Markaz, particularly celebrating its millennial history and more recent literary importance in the Arab world.  In the Mediterranean region, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans are represented and in Central Asia, cultures as far-flung as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Uyghurs of China.  The North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are highlighted, along with their native Amazigh, Kabyle and Tuareg cultures.  The venerable Armenian, Assyrian, Azeri, Bedouin, Chaldean, Druze, Kurdish and Sephardic cultures, and so many other minority groups, are also reflected at The Markaz.  Our staff, advisors and artists represent an eclectic collection of people of many backgrounds, including Arab, Iranian, Jewish, Latino, Native American, European, Central and South Asian, and people of multiple mixed identities. TAKE THE TOURAs you enter The Markaz campus, you find a large internal lobby with many high windows emphasizing the beautiful Southern California light. On the right is a café that serves as many people outdoors as inside, and outside there is a small stage for live poetry and music performances. Walking past the café, one finds an amazing bookstore and gift shop offering books in English as well as Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Armenian and other languages; DVD movies from all over the world; a vast collection of music CDs; an unframed movie poster collection so you can choose posters of your favorite films whether from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, the United States or Europe and have them framed.  The gift shop offers a brilliant array of artisan works from all over the Arab/Muslim world, including Palestinian embroidery, Moroccan design, Afghan jewelry, tapestries and an eclectic selection of fine art.  Across the way from the bookstore and gift shop is the resource library containing more than 25,000 volumes and a bank of computers and study rooms, with a complete children’s section and play space. The library also has many windows, which look onto the campus gardens with topiaries that are reminiscent of the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. At the center of The Markaz campus is a very large and stunning fountain such that wherever you find yourself in the gardens, you can hear the soothing sounds of water falling.  From the lobby, off to your left, is our state-of-the-art indoor amphitheatre that seats 500, and further down the way, our theatre-theatre especially designed for comedy, spoken word and theatrical performances, seating 199. Beyond the theatre-theatre is our conference and ballroom, where our 1,000 early guests are congregated, enjoying live performances and a fabulous buffet lunch.  There is also our outdoor amphitheater, which accommodates up to 1,200 audience members. On the other side of the Markaz campus you find a spacious Middle Eastern-style hammam and spa, next door to the dance & yoga studios, the prayer & meditation room, and the kids’ Playland, where friendly minders are available to engage children throughout our opening hours. Adjacent to the dance & yoga studios are the museum galleries where you’ll find our permanent collections and new exhibits of art and photography. Further along past the museum galleries and gardens, there are several classrooms where we offer language classes for both adults and kids, in different dialects of Arabic, as well as Persian, Turkish, Armenian and Hebrew. There’s even a beginning Amazigh (Berber) class, and we will offer a new course in Kurdish in the fall.  Our Markaz offices include not only space for our team, but a number of additional offices occupied by participating member organizations, which will be mentioned below.  PREMIERE DESTINATION With the gardens, parking structure, library and other facilities, The Markaz campus takes up nearly an entire city block, and we anticipate serving upwards of 1,000 people a day during the week, and as many as 2,500 people a day on Fridays and Saturdays for an average weekly number served of 10,000.  By the end of 2019, The Markaz will have brought together more than 300,000 people, both locals and international tourists, as well as visitors from across the United States. The Markaz is on course to become one of the premiere attractions of greater Los Angeles, on par with the Getty, the Skirball, the Hammer, LACMA and MOCA. In addition to being a cultural arts center and museum that celebrates the Middle East and North Africa, The Markaz has become a central resource for collecting the oral histories of refugees and immigrants of the MENA. We also have a strong Fellows program for graduate students, and an Internship program for undergrads, providing training and job opportunities for students interested in the nonprofit world as well as conflict resolution studies.  OUR CONSTITUTION Early on, our Markaz Dreamers and Builders Circle members subscribed to our core principles and signed our constitution, which emphasizes our strong support for human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our constitution also places emphasis on The Markaz being a safe space, free of invective, blame, or superstition, where we can share our stories, and converse on the complex issues facing the Middle East, North Africa and our populations in diaspora—whether in the U.S., Europe, or elsewhere. We insist on the core values of the arts, and support independent voices. We eschew violence in all its forms, because The Markaz always stands behind dialogue and democratic solutions to political conflict. Our constitution insists on the need to protect the rights of children and women, and to condemn racism and discrimination in all its forms.  The Markaz has already created an operating manual that it makes available to other cultural centers, groups and associations around the country and abroad, who wish to emulate our model.  We are members of and/or maintain many partnerships with a broad range of nonprofits and NGOs, including the United Religions Initiative at the UN, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Open Society Foundation, Edutopia/The George Lucas Educational Foundation, Muslims for Progressive Values, the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, the National Network for Arab American Communities, the Farhang Foundation and others. The Markaz also maintains an exclusive membership circle for local like-minded nonprofit groups and associations who are able to enjoy special discounts and usage rates of our facilities. Some of the groups have offices at The Markaz. These include many smaller MENA groups such as the Arab American Historical Foundation, Al Jadid Magazine, the Egyptian American Organization, Jordanian American Association of California, the Moroccan American Association of California, the Syrian American Women’s Association, the Palestinian American Women’s Association, the Hollywood Iranian Filmmakers Association, the Arab American Film Festival, the Noor Iranian Film Festival, ARPA International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Turkish American Association and many others.  We are extremely proud of the fact that The Markaz is designed to be a cultural center known for the spirit of our peace and conflict resolution activities, be they cultural events, conferences, festivals, oral history projects, videos or podcasts.  The Markaz is a cultural arts center, museum and community space that welcomes all Americans and visitors from the around the world. Our hope is to inspire replications of this center wherever it is most needed, to address the many challenges that face the Arab/Muslim/Middle Eastern communities. • • •  * The new Markaz will be created with the incredible leadership and support of three circles, as follows: • Markaz Dreamers and Builders PLATINUM Circle—we’ll each raise and/or contribute a minimum of $100,000 per year for the new Markaz; • Markaz Dreamers and Builders DIRECTORS Circle—we’ll each raise and/or contribute a minimum of $10,000 a year for the new Markaz; • Markaz Dreamers and Builders FRIENDS Circle—we’ll each raise and/or contribute a minimum of $1,000 a year for the new Markaz. If you would like to join one of these circles, kindly contact Jordan Elgrably, jordan-at-themarkaz.org.  

The Marvels of Being Both Afghan and American: Tamim Ansary

In West of Kabul, East of New York, author Tamim Ansary (Destiny Disrupted; Games Without Rules) has written a thoroughly personal account of rediscovering his multiple selves as an Afghan from a rich culture and extended family, an American who came of age in the era of hippies and counterculture; and a Muslim in the Sufi tradition, in search of Islam’s ultimate meaning and purpose. His storytelling is straightforward and engaging, heartwarmingly so, because Ansary is a writer who cares not only about his protagonist (in this case himself) but all his characters, major and minor. The nonfiction narrative, written after the events of 9/11 in an attempt to unveil Ansary’s remembrance of Afghanistan for unknowing American readers, is a genuine page-turner, a book that should be read any anyone wishing to see the connections and common causes of east and west. In this book, it comes down to family and love of one’s country, and that’s something we can all relate to—American or Afghan, Arab or Jew, Catholic, Buddhist or atheist. Above all, Ansary is a natural bridgebuilder between civilizations. If only politicians could be this empathic. Read this book and share it with friends. —Jordan Elgrably also recommended:

Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange

Why wouldn't you want a break from the tedium of your cell phone, television screen, computer screen, iPAD or other isolating device, in order to dive head-first into some of the earliest-known Arabic stories? This new hardbound and beautiful Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange boasts monsters, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune, not to mention a princess turned into a gazelle and "The Story of the Forty Girls." Continue reading

New Play on Racism in America: "Citizen, An American Lyric"

[Note from the Editor: Claudia Rankine’s award-winning poetry, Citizen, an American Lyric, has been adapted for the theatre by Stephen Sachs and directed by the accomplished Shirley Jo Finney at the Fountain Theatre. The producers describe it as “A provocative meditation on race, fusing prose, poetry, movement, music, and the visual image. A lyric poem, snapshots, vignettes, on the acts of everyday racism.” This world premiere is on stage into September 2015. With the current discussion on race and apartheid in Israel/Palestine, Citizen couldn’t be more timely. Info on the play here]   Reviewed by Rick Chertoff Only seconds into “Citizen, An American Lyric” you’ll find yourself at the “ground zero” of any black person’s life in this country, faced with the inevitability of how it is, how it always has been, and how it looks like it always will be, to be the “Other,” and it presses on you.  You realize you are up against the implacable determination — you could even say a majority conspiracy — that your life matters less than others and that in an instant (any instant), it could be time for a large or small dose of humiliation…or it could be time for a ritual killing.  You are perpetually “it.” Continue reading

"The Universe in You" Offers A New Look At Rumi’s Mystical Poetry

This new translation from a native Farsi speaker offers a new window into the mystical poetry of Rumi. Reviewed by Fred Beshid As the bestselling poet in America, Rumi (Jalaaleddin Mohammad Balkhi) requires no introduction. His universal popularity has led to his being frequently quoted and, unfortunately, often misquoted. As a result, I often wonder about the authenticity of Rumi quotes I see. The ubiquity of the thirteenth-century mystical poet within current western culture has been credited to the popularity of Coleman Barks’ translations. But when reading Barks’ translations I have always wondered about their accuracy, since Barks neither reads nor speaks Farsi. When I learned that his so-called translations are actually interpretations of other translations, I was disappointed. What I longed for was a translation by a native Farsi speaker who was also familiar with Rumi’s mystical philosophy. Continue reading

Nina Ansary Enlivens Women of Iran in "The Jewels of Allah"

In her illuminating book Jewels of Allah, Dr. Nina Ansary explores the origins of misconception about the identity of the 20th and 21st century Iranian Muslim woman. Born in Tehran in 1966 but raised in New York City, Ansary received her Ph.D. in History at Columbia and has devoted a great deal of her studies to the condition of women in Iran. Though this book is academic in its approach, the arguments and structure of the book are easy to follow and engaging. Continue reading

Cyrus Copeland's "Off the Radar" Grapples With Iranian American Identities

Having parents from two different countries or cultures has its challenges, as we learn in Cyrus Copeland's recent memoir, Off the Radar. In fact, there is a body of literature coming to the fore, in the United States and around the globe, that essentially weaves together the experiences of children composed of mixed heritage—those of us who have parents from two or more different countries, religious beliefs or ethnicities. In some circles, this is described as "being between worlds." I am one of those children, with grandparents from Morocco and Lithuania. Cyrus Copeland—whose mother is Iranian and father American—is another instance of someone who has endeavored to find his place in the world while deciphering the histories and hostilities of two countries that have been at odds with each other for most of his life. Continue reading