Skokie program spotlights Assyrian culture

In only three years, Coming Together in Skokie feels like a staple event in the village, a logical extension of other initiatives celebrating the village’s cultural diversity.

This year, the program shines its spotlight on the Assyrian culture but it also becomes a literary time machine of sorts because of its main book selection.

That selection is “Gilgamesh,” not only a great epic poem but the first known recorded literature discovered among the archaeological ruins of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s great library.

There are various versions of the book, but the one being recommended for the Skokie program is “Gilgamesh: a New Rendering in English Verse” by David Ferry.

Like the last two years, Coming Together in Skokie will include six weeks of events all revolving around a single culture. The program opens Jan. 29 with a kickoff event at Niles West High School and concludes March 22 with a book discussion at the Skokie Public Library.

In between are many programs at various venues throughout the village all intended to contribute to a community-wide celebration designed to promote literacy and to explore in depth a different culture each year.

Although the Coming Together In Skokie program spotlights a different culture, the intended audience is people from all backgrounds, especially people who may not be familiar with the featured culture.

“We would like everyone who lives in Skokie and the neighboring communities to come and take part in these wonderful activities,” said Susan Van Dusen, one of the initiative’s founders and the first lady of Skokie.

Other books that are part of this year’s program include “Home Is Beyond the Mountains” by Celia Barker, a story of unimaginable loss and profound courage; “Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees” by Deborah Ellis highlighting firsthand accounts of children displaced by war in Iraq; and “Sahra=Moon,” written and illustrated by Romil and Victor Benyamino, a children’s book written in Assyrian and English as a playful bedtime story.

Organizations that are planning this year’s events include the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Movement, Assyrian National Council of Illinois, the Assyrian American Civic Club of Chicago and the Assyrian students of Niles West and Niles North.

Authors are scheduled to appear during the program, which Van Dusen said has a bit more of an academic bent this year than in past programs.

Coming Together In Skokie was formed because the village has become one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the state. More than 90 different languages and dialects are spoken in homes.

“We acknowledge this wonderful diversity as an opportunity to build knowledge, awareness, and appreciation for the many cultures around us,” Van Dusen said. “We hope that residents and students will read these books, take part in public discussion groups, and enjoy the many activities we are offering.”

In its first year, Coming Together in Skokie featured the Asian-Indian community and the novel “Motherland.”

In 2011, the program showcased the Filipino-American community through several books.

The Coming Together in Skokie committee was set to introduce this year’s third installment at a press conference this week.