As the sun set in Toronto on Wednesday night, hundreds gather in the Hearn's side room to celebrate Iftar, or the evening meal that breaks the daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
Held in conjunction with the Luminato Festival, CultureLink and the Newcomers' Centre at the Agincourt Community Services Association, the event brings together people of all faiths to welcome a large group of Syrian refugees to Toronto.
"When you come to a new place, you're often looking for things that are familiar, says Amirali Alibhai, the head of performing arts at the Aga Khan Museum and the host for the night.
As a refugee himself, he finds it particularly meaningful to welcome newcomers during their first Ramadan in Canada and is happy to do so with Luminato. "For an institution that's 10 years old use the arts as a way to welcome people," says, "I think it's a powerful statement."
Afterwards, guests help themselves to a buffet of food as Juno-nominated Cree cellist and composer Cris Derksen plays during dinner. Anishnaabe elder Duke Redbird gives the opening remarks before the Muslim call to prayer sounds, signifying the end of the fast day.
Afterwards, dancer Nimkii Osawamick and percussionist Jesse Baird join her on stage.
Yet the highlight of the evening comes when the Nai Children's Choir makes its debut. The group of more than 30 kids, all of whom are Syrian refugees, sing three songs in three different languages; Arabic, English and French.
Founder Fei Tang, who works for CultureLink, thinks the choir is a valuable way for the participants to cherish their own heritage. But at the same time, it helps them - and their parents - gain more confidence with English. "I think kids love it and how best can you learn a language? You know, singing is the best way for pronunciation," says Tang, who started this choir this past April.
While Nai Choir charms the crowd, Tang stands by her table passionately mouthing the words to the songs along with them.
And as the night winds down, I grab a seat with Lucy Aposhian and her family; they came to Canada from Syria on January 29. They're Luminato volunteers and are helping the Iftar event run smoothly. "It was a really great opportunity, a great chance to meet people," she says.
And what better way to meet people than by breaking bread?
Photos by Hector Vasquez.
by Amy Grief via blogTO