Songs for Syria benefit concert a success in Northampton

By Lia Gips

Michael Coghlan/Flickr
Michael Coghlan/Flickr

NORTHAMPTON — A benefit concert at the First Churches of Northampton to show support for Syrian refugees drew about 500 people on Sunday, bringing a variety of individuals from around the Pioneer Valley.

Organized by the Valley Syrian Relief Committee and endorsed by a wide interfaith network of Pioneer Valley religious organizations, organizers hoped the event would raise up to $30,000, said Sara Weinburger, who has been working with the four other members of the VSRC for the last two years to make the fundraising possible.

All proceeds will go to the Syrian American Medical Society, an organization dedicated to bringing medical supplies and knowledge to Syria, where at least 600 healthcare professionals have been killed specifically for their commitment to providing medical care, according to Dr. Abdul Fatah Elshar, the president of the SAMS New England chapter.

Elshar has made five trips in the last 10 years to do relief work and training in Syria.

“There is no exception to the rule of violence in Syria. Every family has been affected, every town has been affected, every home, every city,” he said. “ The whole country has been affected, as well as the surrounding region.”

The donations from the Songs of Syria event will have a significant impact on SAMS, which has an annual operating budget of approximately $250,000.

Interspersed with local and international speakers on the effects of violent conflict in the country, Arab music ensemble Layaali provided the event’s entertainment. Audience members clapped, swayed and even danced in the church aisles to the group’s music.

The musical group was selected for the event only a few months ago, but planning for this fundraiser began nearly two years ago.

One of the organizers, Michael Kane, called Weinberg and asked her if she was interested in putting together a fundraising effort for repairing damage done by violence in Syria. Through a network of their acquaintances from other humanitarian fundraising efforts, the VSRC was created.

Another member of the VSRC, Marcy Eisenberg, shared her perspective on sudden interest in Syria in light of the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old whose body washed up onshore that recently went viral.

“It’s unfortunate and fortunate, in a way,” she said. The timing of sudden public interest in Syria means that an issue that had been largely unknown is now getting traction and drawing attention.

Eisenberg, a member of local Jewish community B’nai Israel, says that the refrain in her mind has been “never again,” a phrase often repeated in relation to the Holocaust, but that she wishes could apply to all such atrocities.

She says that, for her, it is just as important to raise awareness as it is to raise funds, and she thinks that the Songs for Syria event did just that.

Lia Gips can be reached at [email protected]