Jackson Hts. festival celebrates diverse cultures

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It can be easy to live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, but it takes actual work to get along with all the people of different cultures and backgrounds who share the space.

The first-annual Interfaith Harmony and World Peace Fair and Festival in Jackson Heights attempted to bridge the cultural divides Saturday and Sunday when leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist faiths threw the multicultural bash.

“We want people to treat each other with respect,” said Thomas Raffaele, a Supreme Court judge who is also the president of the Ethical Humanist Society of Queens, one of the organizations that helped put on the event.

The outdoor festival took place over two days in the playground at IS 145, at 33-34 79th St. and featured an eclectic mix of musical performances, demonstrations along with food and clothing vendors.

Russian dancers, Hispanic singers, martial arts demonstrations and Bangladeshi pop stars were just some of the acts that took the stage.

One performance consisted of a group of people doubled over in laughter. It was part of Alex Eingorn’s laughter yoga.

“Laughter is universal,” he said after a knee-slapping session with about eight others. “At the same time, it’s very good spiritually and emotionally.”

While the heat kept most people away during the day, Raffaele said, thousands turned out at night.

One small moment that Raffaele witnessed Saturday convinced him that the festival was a success.

When one of the vendors was packing up his cart at the end of the night, it tipped over and all of his wares spilled out over the ground. Raffaele saw strangers from all colors and backgrounds pitch in to help clean it up.

“This kind of thing has been happening for the last 24 hours,” Raffaele said Sunday. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

In addition to bridging cultures, Jackson Heights Imam Mohd Qayyoom was on hand to spread a message of religious tolerance.

“Islam, as a religion, is peaceful,” he said. “All faiths have a right to exist, Israel has a right to exist.”

The message of peace is especially important in Jackson Heights, since practitioners of so many faiths share the same space.

“The Quran is for all faiths,” he said. “Mohammed used to walk with people of all faiths.”

The idea for the festival came out of smaller meetings that Raffaele had with the Ethical Humanist Society of Queens, when he invited residents to eat and learn about ethnic foods or listen to music from a certain country.

“It was a new experience for many people,” he said, adding that he hoped the festival would blossom into a yearly event.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 11:07 am, October 12, 2011
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