New Jersey


Upper West Side suburban types think Paterson as Jersey's hood. You’d have to squint pretty hard to imagine Paterson as the Silicon Valley, but in it's heyday during the industrial revolution, this rust belt looking town made everything from cotton and silk to iron and trains.

The incongruities don’t end there.  It is also William Carlos Williams’ eponymous modern epic poem described as “Whitman's America, grown pathetic and tragic, brutalized by inequality, disorganized by industrial chaos, and faced with annihilation. No poet has written of it with such a combination of brilliance, sympathy, and experience, with such alertness and energy.”

South Paterson Home to the largest Turkish-American immigrant community in the U.S. – at last count about 20,000, down from about 60,000, fifty years ago and the second largest Arab community after Dearborn, Michigan. Visit these streets on a Muslim holiday and you’re likely to see the kids who attend Prospect Park public schools hanging out, observing the festivities with their families.

And not unlike the Middle East, Little Ramallah  -- bordered by Madison Avenue to the north, Crooks Avenue to the south, Hazel Street to the west, and East Railway Avenue to the east – suffers from something of an identity crisis because it is alternately called Little Arabia or Little Istanbul due to the equally large numbers of Turks, Syrians and Lebanese.

Still, according to exasperated local Turks – although they don’t let on because that’s just not a Turk’s style – one is either a Turk or an Arab, but not both. Both can be of the Islamic World, but not religiously. Turkiye is secular, and doesn’t practice Islam. It is a buffer to fundamentalist Islam, but itself is neither East nor West, which defines both its problem and its blessing. Its heart is in Asia (Ankara) but it faces Europe (Istanbul).

South Paterson, it only looks Arab. Upon closer inspection of the business signs and you realize, they are not Arabic.

The contradictions keep coming, for we have crossed the great divide from West to East. Turks also read right to left. Like Greeks, they say “no” by nodding their head up and down, much like the West gesture “yes”.  “Yes” is a downward nod, which looks like the Western gesture for “no”.

Once you get past the cultural reversals, preconceived notions, and unfamiliar language you realize you are having an authentic cultural experience subtitled by Turkish “authenticity”.


Oz Karadeniz 1023 Main St. Paterson, NJ  (973) 523-7779

The smell of something grilling thrilled me nostrils first toward a local eatery slash watering hole where a few of the neighborhood men check in to say hello, use the phone, catch a soccer game, or a smoke.

Ahmet and his wifeYadigar Bayrou make a succulently grilled Chicken Doner Kebabs,  with bulgur wheat and pilaf, Cacik Yogurt sauce with garlic and dill. Swill it down with pure peach soda. Best part of the meal was talking to, the owner about the neighborhood. He explained the meaning of the handmade artifacts on his walls and introduced me to the “boss” (his wife) making delicious dips and salads along with his daughter-in-law. His grandson, Joseph doing handstands on the chair of my table was a charming little kid with big brown eyes. I thanked him profusely for his hospitality, and left feeling satisfied.

Drizzly and gray, I was about to head home when I wandered next door to the only Turkish book shop in the tri-state area called "Zinnur” at 1019 Main St. (973) 278-6662, run by Zinnur -- previously seen hanging around next door at Oz – who (before I knew it) poured me a glass of Turkish tea in a delicate little tulip glass an homage from the Lalezar era of the Ottomans. Quiet and ready to listen to my questions, he and a store colleague and another guy who was just passing through, reminded me that the rest of the world still takes to stop. And. Talk. To an ethnographer reporter, a citizen diplomat who would tell the real story of Oz to the Suburbanites.



I stopped off on the way home at Taskin, the Turkish bakery where again, I was shown the famous Turkish hospitality inquiring about the Turkish flat bread called “Pide”, handmade and brick oven baked. They come topped with sesame seeds and black caraway seeds or plain for sandwiches or table bread. They took me behind the counter, showed me around while the smell of fresh baked bread intoxicated me. A poster for the Turkish-American Festival was thrust into my hands . They wanted me to tell “everybody” to come. There’s a flag raising ceremony on Thursday, May 14th in front of Paterson City Hall (155 Market Street) in front of Clifton City Hall (corner of Clifton & Van Houten Aves.) and lots of parading, eating, music entertainment, singers, musicians, folk dancers, food, vendors, games, prizes & surprises. With all this culture right here in North Jersey, who needs Ninth Avenue?

Next up: The Syrians of South Paterson, NJ.

Lisa La Valle-Finan is an Intercultural trainer, writer, and the Creative Director of getGlobalized™. She’s been traveling and writing for 25 years, speaks French, Italian and Greek, and welcomes all comments and can be reached at . More information can be found on the company’s website at

Axtell, R. (1997). Do's and Taboos around the World for Women in Business. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Dresser, N. (1996). Multicultural Manners. New York: John Wiley.
Foster, D. (2000). The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia. New York: John Wiley
Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Morrison, C. B. (1994). Kiss Bow or Shake Hands. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media.

Web,_New_Jersey new jersey



Older and less understood than other Arab cultures in South Paterson, the Syrians have an ancient story to tell. And much like the Road to Damascus there is an “ah hah” pay off at the end. It is Bible-speak for the mother of all epiphanies paved with the magnitude of St. Paul's transgressions, including his attempts to wipe out Christianity, in which all was forgiven. One just might need an epiphany to figure out who the Syrians are and why they’re here in the midst of Whitman’s “beaten up and tragic…industrial chaos”.

It begins with their history, which is, by all accounts, among the oldest in the area, stretching back to the early 20th century, as the first Arabs to arrive and set down roots here. What made them immigrate. What they eat. How they differ from other Arab cultures, will be eye-opening for the “Suburbanites”.

The real Damascus (Dimashq,commonly known as al-Shām also known as City of Jasmin) is the capital and largest city of Syria. It is perhaps the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. Since the copper age from about 8,000 BCE with a population of about 1.6 million people. But a jaunt to the Damascus of South Paterson is easier and begins at Fattal's Syrian Market (975-977 Main Street (973) 742-7125 where the owner, Norman settled forty years ago. He is cautious and diplomatic. Formal, yet hospitable. And avoids the obvious Middle Eastern hot button topics. But I persuade him to talk about what’s in his store that is particularly Syrian and he says, diplomatically: everything and nothing. We are Arab, but “from all over the world” as he puts it.

According to “Syrians place a high degree on tradition and present themselves well both at home and abroad. It is normal to find Syrian families all over the world who still live their lives as if they were in the Old Country.” So, in keeping with tradition, he does and he doesn’t. His store is, and it isn’t, Syrian. This trait of cultural ubiquity has its roots in ancient Greater Syria, when encompassed parts of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and parts of southern of Turkey including Alexandretta and the ancient city of Antioch, the pre-Islamic capital of Syria. To understand Syria is to understand much of the Middle East.

And so, there is a little bit of the bazaar in his market. Things for getting and spending. A travel agency.  Display cases unabashedly brimming with eye-popping trays of 18 and 24K gold bling. Overall, despite the powerful influence of Islam in people's lives, some elements of folk religion persist. Particularly in rural areas, there is a strong belief in the evil eye as well as in jinn (spirits). And Fattal’s has an entire display case devoted to them.

Though Syria is not tribal like Saudi Arabia, it is stratified and the caste system is alive and well. Norman being fair, male, and of the merchant class, chances are he would’ve fared well no matter which country he chose. There are also things for cooking. Like Halal meats and the indispensable Seven Spices. Rice. Middle Eastern canned vegetables. Pita. Racks of honeyed sweets. And more than a dozen kinds of olives. For a quick take out or lunch there’s a sit down area to eat garden variety Arab dishes to savor. The food is good and honest. Try the hummus on Syrian bread (pita). Also try their lahim biajeen (pronounced LAH MAHZHEEN) which are meat pies on Syrian bread.

Though Syria is homogeneous, Sunni, and over ninety percent Muslim, there are a few ancient tribes. And one in particular speaks the language of Christ: Aramaic. And here just might be the epiphany. A culture that contains a language from a religion found everywhere on earth, and yet is extinct. Spoken in Mesopotamia about 14 centuries ago, it is now modern day Hebrew. Syrian culture is omnipresent and yet hard to pin down. A little like Norman. In addition to Fattal’s, the othergame in town is Nouri Brothers Syrain Bakery a block away at 999 Main St Paterson, NJ  07503 Phone: (973) 279-2388 which has been around for about twenty five years. Though it is smaller and mostly bakes breads, it is equally authentic.

Aleppo (named for Syria’s second largest city) is the Syrian watering hole. The restaurant for local Syrians (and Egyptians, Palestianians, you get the idea) at 960 Main Street Paterson, NJ 07503-2307 (973) 977-2244‎ or (973) 569-4545, open from 9:00am-10:00pm. It is owned by the charming and jovial Mohamed who also immigrated about 40 years ago, with a not too different immigrant story to tell about the need to get out from beneath the shadow of his great father and strike out on his own. The sign on the outside reads Al Safa, but that was the old restaurant. They haven’t gotten around to changing it, but it doesn’t matter because anyone who comes here knows what they’re looking for.

The quintessential Middle Eastern host he welcomes everyone from“the boys” to local families with babies in tow and serves up the home grown dishes. Halal, roasted or grilled chicken or lamb with side dishes of rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and vegetables. Mezzeh including hummus, a puree of chickpeas and tahini (ground sesame paste); baba ganouj, an eggplant puree; meat rissoles; stuffed grape leaves; tabouleh (a salad of cracked wheat and vegetables); falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas); and pita bread. Olives, lemon, parsley, onion, and garlic are used for flavoring. Tea is as ubiquitous as the Hookah pipe flavors ranging from apple banana peach rose cherry and just about every other flavor in between. Weekend evenings you’ll find him orchestrating several dining rooms, glad handling, and shaking it with the belly dancers while seating new customers.

The Road to Damascus may be an ancient one, but along the way, embracing the deep connective roots of the Syrians to much of the world, is an epiphany we can all share.

Seven Spices: 2 tablespoons ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom



Axtell, R. (1997). Do's and Taboos around the World for Women in Business. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Dresser, N. (1996). Multicultural Manners. New York: John Wiley.

Foster, D. (2000). The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia. New York: John Wiley

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Morrison, C. B. (1994). Kiss Bow or Shake Hands. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media.

Ball, Warwick. Syria: A Historical and Archaeological Guide, 1998.

Beaton, Margaret. Syria, 1988.

Beattie, Andrew, and Timothy Pepper. Syria: The Rough Guide, 1998.

Galvin, James. Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire, 1998.

Hopwood, Derek. Syria, 1945–1986, 1988.

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Mulloy, Martin. Syria, 1988.

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Sinai, Anne, and Allen Pollack, eds. The Syrian Arab Republic, 1976.

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Tareq, Ismael Y., and Jacqueline S. Tareq. Communist Movement in Syria and Lebanon, 1998.

Wedeen, Lisa. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria, 1999.

Winkler, Onn. Demographic Developments and Population Policies in Ba'athist Syria, 1998.


Web Sites

Destination Syria,

Guide to Syria,

Syria: A Country Study, www.lcweb2.loc/gov/frd/cs/sytoc

Syria—The Cradle of Civilizations,

U.S. Government, Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook: Syria,,_New_Jersey