NEW YORK – The Hellenic Relief Foundation filled the Sumas Community Center of the Sts. Nicholas and Constantine and Helen Church in Roseland, NJ on December 13 with musicians and guests who perfectly expressed the event’s theme – “A Concert of Love and Solidarity” – with their presence and financial support.
More than $31,000 was grossed and in excess of 2000 needy families in Greece will be fed at Christmas as a result of the generosity of the more than 350 people who clapped and sang along with Grigoris Maninakis and the Mikrokosmos Ensemble.
Pantelis Athanasiou, president of the parish council, welcomed and thanked the guests for “supporting the needy people in our beloved homeland” and the volunteers “who worked tirelessly.”
The program of more than 30 songs was designed to evoke warm memories among Greece-born and Diaspora Hellenes, and there were many touching moments.
Vasiliki Tsigas told TNH “A girl sitting next to me told me one of the songs was the one her father used to sing to her every night to put her to sleep, and she was in tears,” and her friend said “All of these people came out to support Greece and it’s heartwarming.”
The concert began with one of the most moving openings to any Greek concert in memory. The rich and inspiring words of St. Paul were presented first by Anna Eliopoulos in a dramatic reading with ensemble intoning their instruments in the background, and then by Maninakis in bel canto style in the Byzantine mode plagal of the first tone.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing…Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
The music of the first half picked up the theme, with clusters of songs about different kinds of love, including mother’s love, love of country and romantic love.
“Αν είν’ η αγάπη έγκλημα/έχω εγκληματίσει – If love is a crime, I am a criminal” was the first, followed by “Τι’ναι αuτο που το λενε αγαπη – What is this thing called love,” sung my Maninakis.
Eliopoulos was joined by Eleni Toumaras for “Ενα σπιρτο στο τραπεζι – one matchstick on the table and Toumaras continued with “7 τραγουδια θα σου πω – I will sing you 7 songs.”
“Αχ Ελλαδα σ’αγαπω – Ach Greece, I love you!” – the poignant love song of the Diaspora Greek for the homeland he misses closed out the first part of the show to loud and appreciative applause.
The well-selected of songs included duets of Maninakis singing with Kostas Psaros and Panagiotis Andreou who dazzled on bouzouki and bass respectively.
Glafkos Kontemeniotis was on keyboards, Spiros Arnakis on drums and Sophia Anastasia played the flute.
After the brief intermission Andreou delighted the guests with his whistling and scatting as he played “Ομορφη Πολη – Beautiful City.”
Psarros gave “Τα τρεννα που φυγαν” a sultry bouzouki opening and Eliopoulos touched some still-healing hearts with “Χωρισμος – The Breakup.”
with all Mikrokosmos concerts, the audience was hungry for more, but it was more than a consolation prize that they were all treated to fine wine and food after the prolonged and loud final applause.
Stellios Teketzis acknowleged the work of HRF board members, and spoke of the founding of the organization. “Near the end of 2011,” he said, a group of people saw that not enough was being done in America to help Greece, so they decided to do something.”
$200,000 has been sent to Greece and 15,000 people have been assisted. The food is purchased in Greece to help stimulate the local economy and an HRF board member is usually present at the distributions to ensure the program is on target.
Taketzis pointed to the audience and declared “YOU are HRF. 15,000 is a number, but every number has a name.”
It may be symbolic, some said, but the hope generated by the community’s acts of solidarity with the homeland is real.
Taketzis touched the audience with the story of the elderly woman who told him “παιδη μου την ευχη μου να εχεις – child, you have my blessing,” and she said that it gives them hope to know that someone in the United States is thinking of them.
Philip Vogiatzoglou presented Athanasiou with a plaque to thank the parish for supporting the endeavor and the latter in turn thanked HRF “for all they do in helping the families in Greece.” He said earlier “Bravo, panta axioi – you are always worthy.”
“The Foundation is incorporated in the NY State as a non-profit philanthropic entity with a mission of providing support for the Greek population suffering during the present economic crisis, by addressing needs in health and nutrition,” according to its website. .
Taketzis summed up the Foundation’s spirit when he offered the famous quote by Winston Churchill for meditation over the holidays: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”