A Substitute Grandma at an Armenian ‘Handess’

Catherine Yesayan
Catherine Yesayan

Catherine Yesayan

BY CATHERINE YESAYAN

I received a text from my best friend—she wanted to know if I could attend her granddaughter’s (or “tornik’s” in Armenian) year end recital in place of her because she had to be at her work.

Yes, grandmas also work and text… I messaged her back, “Of course!”

It had happened again: I had not read the full text and I didn’t realize that the recital was for her granddaughter’s Armenian language program.

When I entered the school auditorium, I was pleasantly surprised to see the tricolor Armenian flag and the Armenian alphabets on the wall. I was quick to realize that the recital (or “handess” in Armenian) was organized by Davidian & Mariamian Educational Foundation that conducts after school Armenian language classes at public schools.

Students singing a patriotic song

Students singing a patriotic song

I travel thousands of miles to write about Armenian communities in far flung places around the world but somehow I have missed to write about events happening in my own backyard.

As I situated myself, I noticed Vahik Satoorian sitting next to me. Satoorian is the President of D&M Educational Foundation. I introduced myself and told him that after the event I would like to ask him a few questions about their activities.

The program began. The kids on the stage and the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States, followed by the Armenian National Anthem “Mer Hayrenik.” The tune was played on the piano and sung by the kids and most everybody that knew the words.

Whenever I hear our National Anthem, I marvel about the debt of the message it carries in the very simple words.

The author Catherine Yesayan with Sophie her best friend’s “tornik"

The author Catherine Yesayan with Sophie her best friend’s “tornik”

Our Fatherland, free, independent,
That has survived thousands of years,
Is now summoning its sons
To the free, independent Armenia.

Here is a flag for you, my brother,
That I have sewn by hand
Over the sleepless nights,
And bathed in my tears.

Look at it: tricolored,
A valuable symbol for us.
Let it shine against the enemy,
Let you, Armenia, be glorious forever.

Death is the same everywhere,
A man dies but once,
Blessed is the one that dies
For the freedom of his nation.

Two students in front of Armenian tricolor flag

Two students in front of Armenian tricolor flag

After the pledge of Allegiance and the Armenian Anthem the kids put their hands in prayer position and gave an invocation. Then the program started with a plethora of poems and songs which reflected patriotism, love of the country, glorification of our national heroes and Armenian history from invention of alphabets to the Genocide. It also touched many traditions and romanticized the nature as poems do.

After a song which was dedicated to mothers and their virtues, children left the stage and walked through the audience and gave long stem red roses to their mothers and Grandmas. And I, as a substitute Grandma for the day, also received a rose which made me very happy.

Most of the poems and songs were new to me, but they felt like a spoonful of joy. These young Armenian teachers never seize to amaze me with their talents. The thing I liked the best was that each child got an opportunity to sing or recite a few lines and to tell a slice of our history. There were about total of 15 kids, from two different schools. Eight kids from Learning Castle which is a private school in La Canada and seven from Mountain Avenue public school in La Crescenta.

Each school had rehearsed on their own for the last few weeks. Elmira who accompanied the songs on piano is the music teacher at Learning Castle. She had rehearsed the program with both schools individually.

Students reciting on the stage of Mountain Avenue School in La Crescenta

Students reciting on the stage of Mountain Avenue School in La Crescenta

The D&M Educational Foundation was established in 1987 with a mission to teach the Armenian youth our cultural heritage and of course the language. The after school program is conducted in 25 elementary schools in Glendale, Burbank, North Hollywood and Los Angeles areas. There are about 500 kids in the program. The classes are held twice a week each time for two hours where kids are taught basic reading and writing. They are also exposed to Armenian cultural heritage and history.

At the end of the year every school prepares either on their own or a combined recital with another school. Sometimes it includes a few dance numbers too. This was my first time to have the opportunity to attend a recital by D & M Educational Foundation. I should admit I was extremely impressed.

After the recital I talked to Satoorian. He said, “Today, after this recital I’m going to attend two more evens at other schools” He continued, “Every handess has it’s own flavor.”

This “handess” was a testament to see how the kids are thriving In learning Armenian language and its culture. To keep our Armenian identity, in this foreign shores, it takes a concerted effort both from the side of the parents and the community.

This Grandma praises the parents who sacrifice their time and money to make sure their kids are exposed to Armenian history, language and traditions.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary Najarian said:

    What an effort it takes to keep Armenian language school! congratulations to the organizers, teachers, the parents, I have great hope that our heritage, culture, language, will continue. There is nothing more joyful than hearing a child speak, recite, sing in Armenian. I too attended my grandchild’s graduation from kindergarten,. I came out with tears. TEARS OF HAPPINESS.

    • catherine Yesayan said:

      Dear Mary, I appreciate your comment. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to keep our language and our identity. The D&M Foundation is doing a great job.

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