Posts tagged Raphael Hawaweeny
In my last article, I wrote about the “Battle of Pacific Street” — the gunfight between Syrian Orthodox and Maronites in Brooklyn on the night of September 18, 1905. As I said before, St. Raphael Hawaweeny fled the scene and was chased (and then arrested) by a policeman, Officer Mallon. According to Mallon, St. Raphael pulled out a revolver and tried to shoot the officer. According to St. Raphael, he did no such thing, and, for that matter, had never even handled a gun in his entire life.
The next day’s newspapers weren’t in agreement about what had supposedly happened. On one end of the spectrum was the Times, which didn’t even mention a gun. At the other extreme was the World, which not only reported that St. Raphael had a revolver, but that he ”snapped” it at Officer Mallon. Accounts began to crystallize on August 20. In that day’s issue of the Sun, we find this:
[Officer] Nallin says he saw two men break away. He gave chase. One of them was the Bishop, who was hot-footing it toward home. Nallin grabbed the episcopal coat tails. It was then, Nallin avers, that the Bishop turned around and shoved a pearl handled pistol in his face. He snapped it twice, but it didn’t go off.
The Tribune (9/20), also citing Officer Mallon’s sworn testimony, reported that St. Raphael had snapped the revolver three times, rather than twice. The Sun also reported Officer Mallon’s accusation that St. Raphael had actually fired the revolver in the battle, before turning it on the policeman. And here’s the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19):
[Officer] Nallin declares, and swore to his declaration in a complaint made against the bishop, that the prelate held the pistol at him and snapped it more than on ce. It did not go off, for maybe there were rim firing cartridges in a center firing gun; but this the police cannot know, for they have not found the bishop’s revolver, if he had one. Hawaweeny, the policeman says, then took to his heels in a most undignified way and ran away. Nallin was after him like a shot, for there were other policemen by this time attending to the other men in the shooting party, and he caught the bishop, as has been explained, hiding behind a wagon in the express company’s stable.
What about St. Raphael’s own version of the incident? Here is what he told the World (9/19): “As soon as the firing began I fled and took refuge in a carriage shop. I did not have a revolver at any time during the excitement and this policeman who says I did knows that he is telling a deliberate falsehood. He admits that he did not find any weapon in my possession when he made me a prisoner.” According to St. Raphael’s followers, his arrest part of a pre-arranged plot, which allegedly included the police. The Tribune (9/20) offered this report:
The friends of Bishop Raphael assert that his arrest was the result of a plot. Men were especially brought from Asbury Park and Fishkill, it was said, by his enemies to assault his followers. N. Maloof, one of the faction opposed to the bishop, was arrested Monday for assaulting one of the latter’s friends. He threatened, it is alleged, that Bishop Raphael would be arrested before midnight, and he was. The bishop’s friends say that he carried no revolver, but that one was supplied for the occasion by his enemies. He ran away when the detectives arrived because he believed he was being pursued by the men who threatened his life.
We are left with three possibilities:
- Officer Mallon was mistaken,
- Officer Mallon was lying, or
- St. Raphael was lying.
Now, let me say something up front, as we begin our analysis of the available evidence: I am a huge admirer of St. Raphael. He is, without question, my favorite American Orthodox historical figure. My own son’s middle name is Raphael, in his honor. It is impossible for me to be completely objective about this case, because I am admittedly biased in favor of St. Raphael. At the same time, I cannot simply ignore inconvenient evidence, or refuse to pursue possibilities that might leave St. Raphael looking less than clean. To be an honest historian, I have to look at everything. And so I will.
Anyway, let’s consider what we can. Is it possible that Officer Mallon was mistaken? Of course. The incident happened after 11 PM, and this was 1905, so we can be certain that it was very dark. Accounts indicate that Officer Mallon chased after two men — St. Raphael, and someone else. It is entirely plausible that the other man pointed a gun at the officer. Also, the newspapers indicate that many people came out into the streets to see what had happened. According to the Tribune, by the time Officer Mallon arrived at the scene, the mob “numbered nearly two hundred persons.” The two dozen or so combatants were scattering in all directions, trying to avoid being either shot or arrested. So there were plenty of people in the street at the time.
Even Police Inspector Cross, who took charge of the case, was skeptical of St. Raphael’s guilt. Inspector Cross received a letter from a Russian official, attesting to the bishop’s good character, and Cross responded, “I am investigating the matter, and I am satisfied that the Bishop is innocent of all the charges and accusations that have been made against him, and I shall be pleased to have you communicate this information to the Consul-General of Russia” (Sun, 9/22). The inspector questioned Officer Mallon, who, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/22) reported, said “that he could not be mistaken about it and that the bishop had pulled a revolver on him and snapped the trigger, just as he had sworn in court.”
It’s also worth noting that most low-level policemen, like Mallon, weren’t trained in police academies like our officers today. Mallon may have been a police officer, but his value as a witness isn’t necessarily any better than your average man on the street.
This leads us to our second possibility — that Officer Mallon was lying. See, besides being uneducated, many of New York’s policemen in 1905 were, to one degree or another, corrupt. Just a few months before all this chaos, another Officer Mallon was convicted of murder. I haven’t been able to track down our Officer Mallon’s first name, much less his biography, and it doesn’t help that literally each newspaper uses a different spelling of his name. But regardless of the spelling you use, there is a very, very distinct possibility that Officer Mallon was Irish. And if he was Irish, he was probably a Roman Catholic. Given that the Syrian war was between two religious factions, and one of those factions was itself Roman Catholic, it’s certainly possible that Officer Mallon lied to benefit his co-religionists. I don’t have any evidence for this, but it’s something that must be considered as we try to determine the truth.
Finally, there is the remote possibility that St. Raphael himself was lying. Let us, for a moment, try to set aside the fact that we’re dealing with a canonized saint, and try to approach this with as open a mind as we can. St. Raphael Hawaweeny was an Orthodox bishop. He had good reason to believe that his life was in imminent danger. He left his house late at night to visit a parishioner who had been beaten earlier that day. Bishop Raphael brought with him a bodyguard of parishioners, at least some of whom were armed. Stop for a moment — might he have been armed himself? He might have been, but I think not. His best option would have been to run for the hills if anyone attacked, and that is precisely what he did. He probably was not armed. But what if one of those parishioner-bodyguards had thrust a revolver into his hand at the last moment? Is it possible that he took it — not intended to use it, mind you, but simply took it into his hand? I think we must admit that this is possible, albeit remotely so. Bishop Raphael may have had a revolver on his person when he ran from the gunfight.
He ran, and was chased by someone. We now know that someone to be Officer Mallon, but did the bishop know this? Almost certainly not. As we’ve seen, it was very dark, and Bishop Raphael was running from a veritable riot. Surely he thought — I would have thought — that his pursuer was one of those Maronite enemies, coming to get him. In that situation, would it have been reasonable for him to pull out that revolver and point it at the pursuer? I think so. I probably would have done the same thing. I don’t think he would have intended to actually fire the gun, but he probably thought that his life was in imminent danger. Pointing a gun at your apparent attacker is a pretty normal reaction. Once he learned that his pursuer was not an attacker but a policeman, would he have thrown the gun away? Almost certainly.
But – continuing just a little longer with the unlikely theory that Bishop Raphael was guilty – why would he compound the problem by lying about it afterwards? Why not just admit the mistake? It’s very possible that the bishop considered his position, and his flock, and the likely consequences (not just to himself, but to his ministry) of admitting to assaulting a police officer. He may well have felt that a sin — lying — would be better than the destruction of his ministry. And it’s hard to blame him if he did think along those lines.
Okay, let’s stop this speculation now. Is the theory I just laid out possible? I think it is. Is it plausible? Is it likely? No, it is not. Given what we know of St. Raphael, given the realities of New York policemen in 1905, given that the alleged revolver was never found, given the specific circumstances of the case (nighttime, a crowded street, the probable assumption by the officer that all those at the gunfight were participants) — given all that we know, I feel pretty confident that St. Raphael never wavered in telling the truth. I do not believe that he tried to shoot a police officer.
In this article, we have focused almost entirely on the single question of whether St. Raphael tried to shoot a policeman. But he was accused of numerous other crimes, and the whole story of his tribulations in late 1905 is not nearly over. There will be another riot, and another arrest, and many appearances in court. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to unpack, examine, and discuss the sad but compelling crisis that dominated New York’s Syrian community — and the life of St. Raphael — in 1905 and 1906.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Editor’s note: 106 years ago tomorrow — and almost exactly one year before the Battle of Pacific Street — St. Raphael officiated at a wedding in St. Louis. The English bride and Arab groom had a rather romantic backstory, and the wedding took place at the imitation Holy Sepulchre in the “Jerusalem” exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. The newspaper article below appeared in the Bellingham Herald (10/1/1904). After the article, I’ll offer some additional information and commentary.
It was a great event, this marriage of a fair haired English girl and dark-skinned Syrian. In Jerusalem at the World’s Fair every one was in gala attire. There was a sea of [...] color. The Turk, resplendent in flowing silken robes with red tarbouche on head; the Syrian, in gold broidered jacket and trousers of ample proportions; the solemn-visaged Jew and the white-burnoused Arab sheik from the Saharan desert, were assembled to do the couple honor.
The wedding was the culmination of a romantic courtship which was not without its thorny side. The bride, Miss Ethel Thomas of Hanley York, England, met the hero of the romance while a tourist in the Holy Land. Under the warm skies of Palestine their love grew apace, and while the intelligent dragoman waxed eloquent over many a hoary rum his glances were all for the pretty English girl. The other members of the party decided that the attentions of the swarthy guide were too pointed and demanded his removal. Whether it was pity engendered by his dismissal or real affection, the spirited girl determined to leave the party. She joined another, always with the faithful Najib Ghazal as the dragoman. When the tour was over, Miss Thomas returned to the bosom of her family. Her swarthy adorer quickly followed and asked the father of the damsel for her hand. This was refused, and the family offered violent opposition. Mr. Ghazal was under contract to appear as a guide in Jerusalem at the World’s Fair, and was forced to sail without his bride to be. Finally the matter was adjusted, and Miss Thomas sailed to New York, where she was met by her faithful lover. He saw Archbishop Hawawini of Brooklyn, the high primate of the Greek church in the United States, who consented to come to St. Louis in order to unite the pair. The ceremony was inaugurated with all of the state incident to the Greek ritual. The marriage took place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The bride and her only bridesmaid or shabinat, were attired in white. The bride, with a hat instead of the conventional bridal veil, led the procession, the groom and groomsmen, or shabins, following. In the regular Syrian service it is the custom for the groomsmen to carry the groom, holding him high above the bride during the ceremony. This is to signify the lower position of the wife in the household, for in Oriental countries she is quite a subordinate being. The air was redolent with the perfume of flowers, the air was heavy with aromatic incense, the guests held painted and blessed wax candles, the lights dancing like ingnus fatui in the semi-gloom of the church. These holy tapers are preserved as mementoes. The bride and groom also held two artistically ornamented candles. During the ceremony the priest asks the couple all sorts of trying questions, as for instance, he demands of the bride whether she will promise to bear every vicissitude with loving patience and be ever faithful to her lord and master. He asks the groom whether he will provide a comfortable home and always be kind to his wife. Of course, they signify their consent. There is much chanting during the service, accompanied with profound genuflexions. It is in Arabic. Long and tedious but of picturesque grandeur is the Greek wedding ritual. The priest places upon the fingers of the couple two silver rings linked together with a slender chain, emblematic of their eternal union. The chain is then severed and the golden wedding ring placed upon the fingers of both. Still kneeling the couple drink holy wine from the same cup and partake of the sacrificial bread. This is to signify the union of the blood of life, the bread typifies the flesh. Lastly a cup of water is drunk, which is emblematic of the washing away of all impurity.
When the bridal party emerged from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a silver clarinet played a triumphal bridal march. The newly married pair threw nickels and bon bons to the crowd who scrambled for the largess.
Before entering her home provided for her the bride flings a piece of dough upon the portal. If it sticks it is regarded as a happy omen, but if it does not dire misfortune is predicted by the wise women.
Mr. and Mrs. Najib Ghazal will remain in St. Louis until the conclusion of the exposition, as Mr. Ghazal is employed as a dragoman in Jerusalem.
The betrothal of a Syrian couple is entirely the affair of the parents, the prospective bride and groom having nothing whatever to do with it. It is not even considered good form for the young man to see the face of the young woman. He must be content with the description of his mother or the professional matchmaker. What a number of disappointments there must be in store. The burden of providing a trousseau for the bride rests upon the groom. Even though he belongs to the middle class and is not the possessor of great wealth, he must send not less than twenty silk dresses to his bride, also ten gold or silver necklaces, diamond earrings and brooches. This is a provident proceeding, for the groom if disenchanted may abandon the bride the next day; in this case he leaves her well provided with the wherewithal to entrap another husband. The bride must always be subject to her mother-in-law, as it is the Syrian custom not to provide a separate home. This is a survival of patriarchal or rather matriarchal domination which prevails in most Oriental nations.
Prior to the marriage ceremony the friends of the groom take him to the nearest bath house and scrub him thoroughly, the prospective bridesmaids doing the same for the bride. Instead of the butter knives, pickle dishes and assortment of heterogeneous objects presented to the American bride, relatives and friends send offering[s] of money. This is in reality money loaned without interest, as the exact sums must be returned to each donor upon their marriage. Every guest proffers two cakes of soap, and when the pair have a number of relatives and friends, there is often sufficient soap to last a lifetime.
This article’s description of the Orthodox wedding is… well, curious. I am by no means an expert on Orthodox wedding practices, but I am an Arab Orthodox Christian myself, and I was married a traditional Orthodox ceremony in the Antiochian Archdiocese. I’ve attended numerous other Orthodox weddings — all here in the United States, which does limit my exposure, but still — and I’ve never heard of a groom being hoisted into the air by groomsmen during the wedding service. It’s also not clear what, exactly this St. Louis couple consumed. My wife and I partook of wine in the “common cup.” In the distant past, I understand that the Eucharist itself was used. But this St. Louis couple apparently was given, separately, wine, bread, and water. And then there are the questions — the wife was asked whether she would “be ever faithful to her lord and master,” and the husband whether he would “provide a comfortable home,” etc. But in my experience, the husband and wife are only asked one question apiece — whether they have come with a “free and unconstrained will” to be joined to the other person. If any of our readers have insight into what was going on at this St. Louis wedding, please let me know.
I did some further digging to learn more about Najib Ghazal and Ethel Thomas. Najib arrived at Ellis Island on May 1, 1904, having sailed from Liverpool aboard the Lucania. He is listed on the ship manifest as “Nagib E. Ghazal,” a single 30-year-old Syrian. His reported residence is London. Ethel was about 22 at the time of her wedding. After the World’s Fair, they remained in the United States; presumably, both became naturalized US citizens. They moved around quite a bit — the US Censuses have them in Brooklyn in 1910, San Francisco in 1920, and Detroit in 1930. As best I can tell, the couple had one child, George, who lived from 1906 to 1984. That’s all I’ve been able to find on the family, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of their descendants still live in the Detroit area. — Matthew Namee
As we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, in September 1905, New York’s Syrian community was on the brink of war. On one side were the Orthodox, who rallied around their bishop, St. Raphael Hawaweeny. The saint himself opposed violence — both violent acts and violent words — but his attempts to intervene only exacerbated the problem. On the other side were the Maronites — the Roman Catholic Syrians. These were led by a group known as the “Champagne Glass Club,” which included the influential Arabic newspaper editor and Lebanese nationalist Naoum Mokarzel.
The first acts of violence took place on Friday, August 15, when about a score of Syrian men scuffled in the colony’s business center. By Monday, tensions had reached a breaking point. That afternoon, three Syrians had a dust-up and were arrested. Then, at 7 o’clock that night, an Orthodox merchant named Nicolo Abousamra boarded a ferry boat. Two men attacked him with a stick, leaving a nasty lump on his head. Abousamra thought that they had a dagger, but he was able to escape to a more crowded part of the boat.
Abousamra made it home, where he told his business partner Sakir Nassar about the attack. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19/1905), “they decided that it might be as well to have the bishop call on them last night and talk the thing over. For they felt sure that there were assassins lurking about to kill the bishop and they wanted to warn him and plan some form of protection.” Though it was by now the dead of night, Nassar hurried off to find St. Raphael. As it turned out, the bishop already had a bodyguard with him: “for the bishop has been worrying about the shadows that lurk about him when he goes abroad, and it is his habit to take some of his parishioners along with him when he goes out at night” (Eagle). St. Raphael went at once to visit Abousamra, and at least some of his accompanying parishioners were armed.
St. Raphael and his entourage never made it to Abousamra’s. St. Raphael lived at 320 Pacific Street. Abousamra was at 114 Pacific. On the way, the St. Raphael’s party had to pass by 137 Pacific — the home of none other than Naoum Mokarzel. For his part, Mokarzel had conveniently invited a dozen friends over, and at least some of these friends were packing heat. (None of the sources say so, but I strongly suspect that Mokarzel’s friends were the other members of the Champagne Glass Club.)
Why did St. Raphael go to the home of his arch-enemy in the middle of the night? The New York Sun (9/19) reported that Raphael got the rather wild idea that, if only he could sit down with Mokarzel and talk face-to-face, they could make peace and end all the violence. Alternatively, the Orthodox parishioners may have taken the initiative to go to Mokarzel’s house, and St. Raphael may have joined them in an effort to prevent a fight. Another very plausible explanation is offered by St. Raphael himself, and appeared in the New York World (9/19):
I have enemies who are seeking to kill me. I have been warned time and again that I will be assassinated and for many weeks I have not dared to leave my home unaccompanied at night. Whenever I go out I get several of my parishioners to go with me and this was the case last night when I went out to visit a sick friend.
Neither I nor those with me had any part in the riot, nor did we make an attack upon the home of Mr. Makarzoe [sic]. We were passing peaceably through Pacific street when the shooting began. I am convinced that it was a feigned pistol duel, with the purpose of murdering me by hitting me with what would appear to be a stray bullet.
One reason it’s hard to get a handle on what happened is the fact that the newspapers don’t agree with each other. The Sun reports that St. Raphael and several parishioners went into Mokarzel’s house and spent about an hour there in a relatively peaceful meeting. Things eventually turned violent, the meeting broke up, and a shootout began. At least, that’s the Sun‘s story.
The New York Times‘ version of events basically follows St. Raphael’s story. According to the Times, “The minute the Hawaweeny party entered [Mokarzel's house] the fight began. It was rough and tumble in the parlor for a few minutes, and then the combatants went to the street and fought there.” No hour-long meeting in this version. Honestly, I think the Times, rather than the Sun, has it right. Consider the facts:
- It was nearly midnight.
- The Orthodox were on their way to visit an assault victim, Abousamra.
- St. Raphael and his followers believed that assassins were after him.
- There were a dozen Orthodox men, some of whom were armed.
- There were a dozen Maronite men, some of whom were armed.
- The two groups hated each other’s guts.
I say there’s no way in the world, under those circumstances, that a dozen Orthodox men could have approached Mokarzel’s house — full of armed Maronites — and not had an immediate fight. St. Raphael’s story sounds reasonable, and I’m inclined to believe him.
In any event, a moment or an hour after the Orthodox group passed by Mokarzel’s house, a gunfight broke out. Here is how the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19) describes the scene:
It was clearly a pitched battle, for the combatants were dancing about, here and there, taking refuge when they could and again take pot shots at each other. There were others on the street in addition to the combatants, some of hte men from the nearby house of the fire patrol, and Captain Cashman, the head of the fire patrol company. The men of the patrol were gingerly trying to stop the shooting, and when the uniformed policeman appeared ran in with him and put the shooters to flight.
The police officer — a fellow named Mallon – had heard the shots, and bravely rushed into the battle. Police reinforcements soon arrived, and the Battle of Pacific Street finally ended. About twenty shots had been fired, but fortunately, no one died and only two men were injured.
Officer Mallon (whose name has as many spellings as New York had newspapers) saw one of the Syrians “running for all he was worth” (Times) away from the fight, and he chased after the man. As it turns out, this was none other than St. Raphael himself.
Soon enough, Officer Mallon caught up to the bishop and arrested him. According to the officer, St. Raphael brandished a revolver and even tried to pull the trigger. St. Raphael vehemently denied this, and said that he had never even handled a gun in his life, and would never do such a thing. This issue — whether St. Raphael assaulted a policeman with a gun and whether he lied about it afterwards — is so serious and significant that I want to explore it in great detail in another article.
Most of the Syrian fighters escaped, but several were arrested and locked in jail. Some women tried to bail out St. Raphael, but the magistrate said that, for the time being, the bishop was safer behind bars than out in public. The physical battle was over, but St. Raphael’s fight for his reputation, and his freedom, had just begun.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]
Editor’s note: The following article appeared in multiple newspapers (including the New York Sun and the Washington Post) on July 30, 1905 — just a couple of weeks before New York’s Syrian community became embroiled in a very public, very messy war between Orthodox and Maronites. In light of that controversy, this article’s statement, “They are preeminently law abiding” is rather ironic.
“What an enchanting vase!” said a buyer in an uptown bric-a-brac shop, as she paused before an enameled copper jar of simple, artistic shape.
“Syrian: fifteen dollars,” explained the accommodating salesman.
“Come away,” murmured the friend. “I will show you where you can buy the same thing for half the price; and rugs and embroideries and brasses and —”
The initiated one led the would-be buyer to a most inartistic and unromantic quarter in the lower part of the city — no section of New York could seem less likely to reveal mysteries of the Orient; yet, under the guidance of one who knows, it yields treasures. Enter a dismal little room perhaps 10 by 12 feet, and you see only rows of shelves filled with folded cloth. Ask to see embroideries, and the gorgeousness of the East is unrolled before you.
Sometimes you may name your own price, sometimes not. The Syrian is canny, and it is up to the buyer to be his own judge of values; but in every case an American merchant would charge more for the same thing.
Much has been published regarding the Syrians in New York which they resent as inaccurate and unjust. They say that they have often been misunderstood, or, worse yet, wilfully misrepresented, in order to make a picturesque or sensational story.
“The Syrians who have come to America to live have one chief object — to become good American citizens.”
This is, in effect, the declaration of every Syrian, high or low, rich or poor, who is questioned as to his life in America. There are about 70,000 Syrians in the United States and Canada and 6,000 in and around New York.
The pioneer Syrians were regarded by Americans with deep distrust, and some of that feeling remains to this day. Poverty forced the humbler ones who wished to live in New York into an undesirable quarter of the city — Washington, Carlisle, Rector streets, West Broadway and vicinity and the poorer parts of Brooklyn and Jersey City. Even now, when there are many Syrians here who can well afford good apartments and houses, the prejudice is so strong that landlords in the better districts refuse to accept them as tenants.
The Syrians are the product of tyranny in their own country, and it has developed at least an outward patience and gentleness. It has also developed a passionate appreciation of the freedom of America, but, unlike many races who thirst for freedom, the Syrians do not abuse it. They are preeminently law abiding.
It is true they are shrewd and subtle. They put up a barrier of reserve which is not to be crossed. They seem always cautious and on guard. This, also, is the result of the tyranny, injustice and suspicion which have been accorded them. It is easy to realize that they might be capable of driving a better bargain than an Anglo-Saxon.
“It is the way we have been governed in our own country that makes us smart,” said one — a university man, master of seven languages, editor of Meraat-el-Gharb, one of the Syrian newspapers published in New York. “We must learn everything we can, especially languages, for a Syrian never knows where he may have to make his home. He must be wise and guard each word he speaks, for he never knows to whose ears it may go or what use may be made of it against him.”
They sell their goods at reasonable, often amazingly low, prices, and invariably for less than an American importer would charge for the same article. The New Yorker who has learned what treasures may be found in the Syrian quarter never fails to betake herself thither before the Christmas holidays. There, in a dingy little room that would not serve an American merchant for a waste paper closet, are piled Oriental fabrics, embroideries, rugs, brasses, coppers, laces and carved wood. The bazaar method of arranging his wares stands the Syrian merchant in good stead in the close quarters to which he has thus far been condemned in New York.
Religiously, the Syrians are of many minds. The greater number in this country belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. There are Maronites, some Roman Catholics, a sprinkling of Presbyterians and about one Mohammedan in two hundred. The Presbyterians and the Roman Catholics are the product of missionary work in Syria. The Greek Orthodox Syrian regards the missionaries with amused disdain.
“Why should you send missionaries to us, who live in the land where Jesus walked and who were Christians before America was dreamed of?”
The principal church of the Greek Orthodox Syrians is in Brooklyn, and at their head is Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny, who is a native of Damascus and is now a most zealous worker for his people. He was the first Syrian member of the Orthodox Russian clergy to receive full episcopal honors in this country. Nine years ago he came to the United States as an emissary of the Greek Church to carry on religious work among the Syrians of New York. He was then an Archimandrite. From the outset he was successful in his efforts, and in recognition of his effective missionary work here he received the higher Church honors nearly two years ago at the hands of the synod and Czar Nicholas.
It is a habit of the Bishop’s flock, especially the men, to call on him Sunday afternoon. Then he adds to the patient, fatherly care of his people the kindnesses of an extremely clever host.
In his home the Bishop wears a robe of heavy, lustrous black satin and is never without a string of agate beads in his hands.
“Is it a rosary?”
“Has it any similar religious significance?”
“No; it is for ornament only. I like to handle it. I am not content without it.”
Then comes the shining brass tray, bearing Syrian brandy, insidious fig paste (of which one never eats too much), pistache nuts, never to be forgotten Turkish coffee and the Bishop’s own cigarettes, stamped in gold Syrian letters with the text, “This is the day the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
“They were given me by a member of my church the day I was ordained,” the Bishop explains.
Across the street from the Bishop’s house is the Syrian church. This belonged originally to a Protestant denomination, and has not the distinctive, mosquelike construction of Russian churches. The interior is of the plainest, except that the altar approaches and furnishings gleam with the brilliant, barbaric colorings and gildings which are characteristic of the Syrians and which give a rich Oriental effect to the otherwise bare house of worship.
A high, carved screen extends across one end of the church, before the altar. In the middle of this screen is the Holy Gate, a doorway to the altar. This cannot be entered except by the Czar, as the head of the Greek Church, or by the regularly ordained priests or higher prelates.
A partition rises on either side of this gate, which is called an ikonostas, in which there are side entrances, where deacons and lower officials may enter. Standing in the Holy Gate, in his gorgeous satin robes, Bishop Raphael is an impressive figure.
The home life of the Syrians is extremely simple, whether they be rich or poor, and its chief characteristic is hospitality. There seems a childlike absence of sytem, and but one domestic rule — to offer the newly arrived guest refreshment. It may be only a whiff at a narghile, a cigarette, or a cup of coffee; but it is given with an abandon of generosity and a touching eagerness to please. Indeed, it is difficult to prevent a Syrian from showering you with gifts. You have the feeling that if he be not restrained he will give you the rugs from his floors and the bric-a-brac from his shelves.
The Syrians in America, both men and women, dress in strictly American fashion. We would rather they did not, and we rejoice in the sight of an occasional fez or twisted scarf, worn especially at home, and gladdening our eyes with its Oriental grace.
If you have a fad for lunching or dining in odd corners of New York you may some time drift into a Syrian restaurant. There, if your tastes be not strictly Oriental, you are advised to confine yourself to the black coffee. Around a little table a group of Syrians, each with a long, flexible tube attached to a water bottle of a narghile, become extremely convivial, and you may be reasonably certain they are discussing politics. You also observe that they are not at their best. They cast off the sleepy eyed reserve which they usually extend to strangers and which so well becomes them, and show a tendency to be vociferous. It is, however, so genial and spontaneous that you yearn to put aside your cold Anglo-Saxon restraint and join in it.
The Syrians, as a rule, send their children to the public schools and are enthusiastic over the educational opportunities they can have in America. The Presbyterian Syrians, however, prefer private schools, where their children receive instruction in the Presbyterian faith. There the big eye babies divide their solemn allegiance between Jesus Christ and George Washington and chant faithful little prayers in soft, minor strains.
Last week, we left the two New York Syrian camps — Orthodox and Maronite — on the brink of war. Each side’s partisan newspaper attacked the other, and the Maronites took particular aim at St. Raphael, the Orthodox bishop of Brooklyn, accusing him of all sorts of outlandish offenses. Various parties received anonymous threats, and things came to a head in late August, when a Maronite group known as the Champagne Glass Club (CGC) told the police that St. Raphael had called on his followers to use violence against their Maronite enemies.
For the next few weeks, the Syrian community was balanced on the edge of a knife. The war of words continued in the papers, to the point that many Syrian men tried to forbid their wives from reading them. (Whether the wives followed this command is an open question.) The police seemed to think that this was all rather harmless, and even amusing.
That is, until September 15. That afternoon, about 20 Syrian men, representing both the Orthodox and Maronite parties, came to blows in the business center of the Syrian enclave. They were armed with guns and knives, but, thankfully, only one shot was fired, and it missed its target. A policeman bravely rushed into the fracas, breaking up the fight and arresting three men. One of the arrested Syrians, Haiss Nahas, had a slight head wound — the day’s only injury, caused when he was knocked to the ground by Navis Harris. Harris, for his part, claimed that Nahas has fired a shot at him.
Nahas, Harris, and another man were hauled into police court. Harris appears to have been Orthodox, and he was represented by the prominent attorney Charles Le Barbier. Just as the case came up before the magistrate, the other party — Nahas, he of the head wound — was brought in. Le Barbier’s jaw dropped when he realized that he had represented Nahas in a previous case, and thus had an unavoidable conflict of interest. Both prisoners were locked up, with bail set at $500 apiece. When another Syrian tried to bail out Harris, the police recognized him as one of the men involved in the fight. He was arrested, but was soon set free by the merciful magistrate.
The street fight took place in broad daylight on Friday afternoon, August 15, in the heart of the Syrian colony. But this incident was more of a skirmish than an actual battle. The combatants apparently took the weekend off, although St. Raphael reportedly accused Naoum Mokarzel, editor of Al Hoda and leader of the Maronite Champagne Glass Club (CGC), of attacking him in print (New York Times, 9/19/1905). This would hardly have been the first time Al Hoda had gone after Raphael, and the Times reference isn’t terribly clear, but it’s possible (probable, even) that St. Raphael addressed the controversy in his Sunday homily.
Anyway, come Monday, the Syrian colony was a powder keg. In my next article in this series, I’ll discuss full-blown outbreak of war that took place on August 18. Before I do that, though, I want to point out a few other facts that I haven’t yet mentioned, which contributed to the hostility in the Syrian colony.
One of the richest Syrian merchants in New York was a man named John Abdulnour (in fact, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of August 19 describes him as “the wealthiest Syrian in America” and “the leader of the Syrians”). Abdulnour was apparently a Maronite, but his wife was Orthodox, and she would occasionally travel from their “palatial” home in Staten Island to attend St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn. Late in the summer of 1905, Mrs. Abdulnour filed for a divorce — with the apparent encouragement of St. Raphael (Tribune, 9/20).
Another issue, which I’ve briefly touched on already, is the fact that St. Raphael did not simply remain silent in the face of slander. No, he didn’t call for vengeance like the CGC claimed, but he also didn’t just take the attacks lying down. According to the Eagle, Raphael sued a Maronite editor named Maloof for libel. The amount? $23,000 — that is, over half a million dollars today. Now, I wouldn’t be too harsh on St. Raphael, as libel suits were exceedingly popular at the turn of the last century. In any event, St. Raphael agreed to accept an apology and drop the case, but that did nothing to quell the ever-increasing resentment that each side felt for the other.
Finally, there is the issue of Lebanese nationalism. Of course, back in 1905, there was no state called “Lebanon” — today’s Lebanon and Syria were, at that time, still a part of the Ottoman Empire. But Naoum Mokarzel aimed to change all that. He was as passionate a Lebanese nationalist as there ever has been, and according to an article in Arab Studies Quarterly, he was directly instrumental in the eventual establishment of the Lebanese state. But Lebanese nationalism was far more of a Maronite sentiment than an Orthodox one, and Mokarzel no doubt felt that St. Raphael’s relative tolerance of the Ottomans and out-and-out loyalty to the Russians was a betrayal of his heritage. To Mokarzel and his ilk, all things were subordinate to the ideal of Lebanon; to St. Raphael, fidelity to one’s faith always trumped the idea of national identity.
As I said, in my next article on this subject, I’ll finally get to the big event — what one newspaper called the “Battle of Pacific Street” — and the resulting arrest of one of the greatest saints in American Orthodox history.
[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]