Scents of steak shawarma, homemade falafel and grilled chicken skewers wafted through the air at St. George Orthodox Church in Rohnert Park this weekend while dancers and musicians in traditional Greek and Middle Eastern garb entertained guests throughout the day. This weekend marked the 13th anniversary of the Greek and Middle Eastern Festival, hosted by the church. The two-day event celebrates Mediterranean culture, including food, live entertainment, and art.
“We started this event 13 years ago as a way to share our culture in a positive light,” said Clemance Tams, Event Coordinator and brainchild behind the festival. “We also wanted to let people in because sometimes we stick to ourselves. It’s a positive community event. It’s nice to share different cultures with people.”
The event has grown dramatically over the years. In the beginning the festival drew from 300 to 400 people and this year they are expecting between 1,500 to 2,000 attendees. In the spirit of sharing different cultures with others, the event has also evolved to include others outside of Greece and the Middle East. For example, the menu this year included a few Eritrean dishes and a Mexican dish and next year they hope to include some Romanian influence as well.
“I want to try to represent where all the Greek Orthodox churches are,” said Tams. “I’m trying to build that in slowly, so that we can get other community members involved as well.”
Entertainment was ongoing throughout both days, including Greek DJ music, live Middle Eastern music, Minoan dancers, a Gradina Band and performances with Ouds, a lute-type, stringed instrument used predominantly in Greek and Middle Eastern music. The kids corner offered a jumpy, a game truck with games and prizes, cotton candy and snow cones. Other activities included a Hookah lounge and Henna tattoos.
For Andrew Leonard from Santa Rosa who came with his wife Catherine Leonard, the food was the big draw.
“We don’t have a whole lot of Middle Eastern food here in Sonoma County,” said Leonard. “We like to eat and thought we’d come check it out! I like that they also have some Middle Eastern groceries for sale. The last time I saw some of these things was when I was in Israel in 2013 for Birthright Israel.”
The event also acts as a fundraiser with some of the funds going back into the community.
“For example in 2017 we gave money to some of the fire victims,” said Linda Tams, Marketing Coordinator for St. George Church. “We also know some people in the community who are homeless and help them out.”
All in all, the Greek and Middle Eastern Festival is a fun, family friendly event that helps the community experience and appreciate different cultures and encourages understanding, tolerance and consideration of others.
“We’re allowing people to understand different cultures, food and religions when you come to this type of event,” said Linda Tams. “You get to experience all of that in the two days we’re here. Today there is a lot of conflict between different communities, religions and cultures. This helps people see that we’re all here for the same reason, we’re all human, we all just like to have fun and hang out and eat and drink. It’s a short life – enjoy it!”