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Cleveland is home to a large community of Arab Americans who enrich the region by sharing their culture and heritage in neighborhoods across The Land. You can appreciate Arab American traditions, food, arts and more when visiting local businesses and restaurants.
We asked Omar Kurdi, a Jordanian American and Cleveland resident, to tell us more about his go-to places and sights to explore whether you’re celebrating National Arab American Heritage Month or just looking for a great place to grab Shawarma (Looking at you, Little Arabia’s Westown Village Market.)
Omar, CEO of Friends for Life and Co-Founder of the Arab Americans of Cleveland – Young Professionals Network, is very passionate about the arts and co-founded Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi, a theatre company within Cleveland Public Theatre that aims to connect with the Arabic-speaking communities in Cleveland.
Arab American Heritage used to be celebrated in various cities during the 1990s. The Arab America Foundation took it upon themselves to create a national campaign to celebrate Arab American Heritage during April 2017. The initiative gives Arab Americans the opportunity to celebrate their culture, heritage, arts, music, foods and accomplishments. It also gives non-Arabs an insight into the Arab American identity. In 2021, National Arab American Heritage Month was recognized by President Joe Biden, the Department of State, and 37 State governors. In total, proclamations were received from 45 states. Arab Americans have enriched American culture over the years and are now integral parts of society. Cleveland has a big community of Arab Americans from different regions and backgrounds.
While there aren’t any official celebrations going in Cleveland for Arab American Heritage Month, people interested in Arab American heritage can visit several local businesses and establishments to support, learn, and engage.
You can visit the Syrian Cultural Garden. It’s the only fully completed garden for an Arab country and a beautiful sight to see.
While not all Arabs are Muslims, the Cleveland Museum of Art has a great exhibit on Islamic Art. Arabs existed before Islam, so the art in this exhibit provides a great inside look to old Arabia. The Cleveland International Film Festival is screening Arab films this year, including “Boycott”, “A Dead Sea”, “Farha”, “Peace by Chocolate” and “Sirens”.
If you feel like celebrating NAAHM at home, Netflix and Amazon Prime have a great selection of Arab films and series to enjoy. My recommendations: “Where do We Go Now”, “Captain Abu Raed”, “Capernaum”, and “The Present” on Amazon Prime. “Finding Ola”, “Al Rawabi School for Girls”, “Jinn”, “Omar”, “The Blue Elephant” and “Destiny” on Netflix.
Cleveland’s greatest resource to learn about Arab Americans is Arab Americans. While we don’t have a specific museum or an information center, we have leaders, activists, businesses, and establishments who offer great insight into different Arab American cultures.
Arabs are known for their love of music, food and hospitality; you can experience that at Sky Mediterranean Lounge and Cuisine. You can enjoy delicious Arabic tea and flavors at Algebra Tea House. You can also try Koshari, Egypt’s national dish, at Urban Kitchen and Deli.
Arabs love Zaatar (thyme), and if you want to really celebrate Arab Heritage, you should try Cleveland-made Terranean Herbs and Spices Zaatar and their Zaatar pita chips. They can be found in your local Heinen’s. If you’re looking for more Arab products, these Arab American grocery stores: Mediterranean Market, Olive Tree, Holy Land Market, Assad’s Bakery, and Aladdins’ Bakery are great options.