Sacramento Community Unites To Help Syrian And Turkish Earthquake Victims

Sacramento Community Unites To Help Syrian And Turkish Earthquake Victims
Severe earthquakes in Eastern Turkey and neighboring Syria have caused catastrophic devastation. Starting on February 6th and during several powerful aftershocks since then, more than 50,000 people have been reported killed at the time of this writing. And tens of thousands more have been wounded and are suddenly homeless. In Syria, which has already seen the destruction of and ongoing war, this suffering was the last thing that they needed. The UN’s World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley has described the scene on the ground as “apocalyptic” after a visit there. Our collective hearts bleed for the people of cities like Aleppo and Antakya today.

Sacramento, California is a community with a heart and continues to feel the pain of those suffering around the world. When it heard about these series of earthquakes and the devastation caused it decided to get together at a quickly arranged event on Wednesday, 22 February 2023, at the historic Sacramento Memorial Auditorium to hold a unified fundraiser for the people suffering in Syria and Turkey. And to add some entertainment into the mix, the Al-Firdaus Ensemble performed to the delight of the audience. Al Firdaus is based in Granada, Spain and was founded in 2012 by English violinist and singer Ali Keeler. It includes musicians from England, Morocco, Spain, and Venezuela. After listening to them for the first time, one can vouch for the fact that they are inspiring and can sure perform.

The event started off when emcee Masood Cajee called everyone’s attention. He next invited CAIR Sacramento Valley Executive Director Basim Elkarra to the stage. Basim welcomed everyone and proceeded to thank all the sponsors who made this all possible. Those sponsors included Sacramento City Mayor Darrell Steinberg, CAIR Sacramento Valley, Sharif Jewelers, Temple B’nai Israel, Tarbiya Institute, Shifa Community Clinic, Precision MD, Trustee Basim Elkarra (Twin Rivers Unified School District), Former State Controller Betty Yee and Rabbi Steven Jacobs. Our thanks to all of them for their generosity.

Next up, the Al Firdous Ensemble played its first segment by starting off with a beautiful recitation from the Holy Quran followed by its translation. The group specialises in Islamic Sufi music, which dips into Arabic, Andalusian, Persian and Turkish sources of inspiration. And they excel at playing their instruments too. Their second presentation was an excellent chase starting with the flamenco guitar and making its way through stringed Qanum, violin, and finishing with the two percussion drums (Darbuka). This group is a wonderful representation of music from all around the Mediterranean. And after listening to them one could speculate on the possible origins of the South Asian art of Qawwali too. Their performance was captivating till the very end.

The speeches and brief fundraising were up next. The funds raised during this event were to be sent to the Zakat Foundation of America which has been cleared to work in both Syria and Turkey. It needs to be noted that getting humanitarian aid to Syria has been especially difficult because it is also a war zone, and the country is under heavy sanctions. But in times of such crisis exceptions need to be made.

Speeches by a number of dignitaries present followed. Sacramento City Council Member Sean Loloee not only represented himself, but also the mayor’s office. West Sacramento Mayor Martha Guerrero, Rabbi Seth Castleman, Yassar Dahbour, Chair of the Arab American Caucus, Jason Weiner from the JCRC, Professor Coşkun Çetin from the local Turkish community, and Mehmet Tarhan, VP Zakat Foundation of America, all shared their deep concerns on this earthquake tragedy. Very moving videos which described the magnitude of this crisis were also shown before the fundraiser was conducted by Basim Elkarra.

Around $70,000 had been raised during this event by the time this report was filed. The Sacramento area and its strong interfaith community came through once again. And on a personal note, when I received word about this earthquake fundraising event there was no reason not to go. Not only did the Sacramento community come together in 2005 for the devastating earthquake in Kashmir, but the Turks arrived there very quickly and had one of the largest contingents on the ground there to help Pakistanis. They are our brothers.