Dolma Days

When we Westerners think of the Mediterranean Sea, we picture a turquoise playground of the filthy rich and famous, bordering Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Yet, the Mediterranean is a big sea, and the countries that border it on the south and east are North African places (Libya and Egypt) and Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia).

Transplanted families from these countries come either directly to the United States as first-generation immigrants or are born here with a strong second- or third-generation heritage. They maintain strong ties to the homeland and also gather in Dallas in churches that become a solid link to history and an easy, familiar community. Dallas' Saints Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church is home to 110 families who practice Antiochian Orthodoxy, do good works in the community and hold a gala Mediterranean Festival at the church, Walnut Hill and Marsh lanes, to celebrate life.

Bill Meek has several volunteer jobs for Saints Constantine and Helen, among them chairing the festival, September 24-26, and working as the church's strategic planner. He says a strong sense of community keeps the church thriving, and he talks about members who give time and talents. "Mrs. Dide has had a colorful life," he says. "She makes the holy bread and also makes some of the pastries for the festival. She worked as a registered nurse in London before she came here." Meek says the Iraq war has touched the church community. "The Lazar family recently lost a relative in Iraq, a civilian, and they're not sure what happened." Meek said the church held a funeral service. Longtime church member Elias Khoury is Lebanese and runs a commercial meat business for area restaurants. "He donates chicken and fish for some of our events," Meek says.

The festival offers authentic Middle Eastern cuisine such as shish kabobs, hummus, falafel sandwiches and stuffed grape leaves, as well as traditional music, with singer Husam Abdullah performing Saturday evening, and the Roksz Dancers. There are carnival games and children's activities.

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Annabelle Massey Helber

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