King Ashurnasirpal Gala raises money for Assyrians in Nineveh Plains

Mesopotamian art gallery is backdrop for exclusive fundraising dinner

June 2018 | By Joe Snell | Photos Contributed

Chicago – The Assyrian Aid Society of America (AAS-A) Chicago Chapter hosted the second annual King Ashurnasirpal Dinner Gala (KADG) on Sunday, May 27.

The black tie event, held inside the Mesopotamian gallery of The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, raised funds for projects directed towards rebuilding the Nineveh Plains as well as supporting the region’s Assyrian education system.

“Throughout the time of ISIS, we ensured not only to support the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), but also to keep the Assyrian schools running,” said Assyrian Aid Society of America Chicago Chapter President Renya Benjamen. “This was a struggle but we made it a priority.”


The theme of this year’s event was “Preservation.” Guests were surrounded by museum artifacts as well as Assyrian recipes inspired by the world’s oldest cookbook, preserved on ancient Assyrian tablets. Atorina Zomaya of the Assyrian Kitchen and Chef Dan Sarkis prepared meals for guests based off the recipes on these tablets.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Narsai David, a Chairman Emeritus of the Assyrian Aid Society of America. Narsai is also a Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Berkeley Community Fund and a founding Board Member of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Dr. Michael Rakowitz, an Iraqi-American Professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University, was the evening’s guest speaker. Rakowitz is a conceptual artist whose work has appeared at galleries around the world including at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the British Museum. Most recently, his Lamassu destroyed by ISIS has appeared in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Dr. Rakowitz held a special presentation titled, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist.”

“I have followed Dr. Rakowitz’s work for some time now,” said Atour Sargon, who attended last year’s inaugural gala as well as this year’s event. “I had the great opportunity to sit next to him during the dinner and was able to get to know him and learn more about his work firsthand.”


During an auction portion of the evening, Sargon was one of two winners of artwork from the Assyrian artist Paul Batou. A number of other art pieces and wine were also auctioned off.

The Mesopotamian Gallery of The Oriental Institute includes ancient artifacts as well as computer programs to help visitors learn about the collection. A 16-foot tall Lamassu is the centerpiece for a number of items dating back thousands of years including pottery, clay tablets, stone sculptures, and vessels made of stones and metals.

The event is named after King Ashurnasirpal II, who is known for having rebuilt the city of Nimrud and arranged a magnificent palace banquet for all city residents.

“Gathered here in The Oriental Institute, we aim to honor and commemorate the history of Nimrud and our Assyrian ethnic identity, which has survived for thousands of years and will continue for thousands to come,” Benjamen said.

The Assyrian Aid Society of America is a 501(c)(3) founded in San Francisco in 1991. The organization is dedicated to helping Assyrians in need and promoting Assyrian culture and heritage. AAS-A works in collaboration with the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq to fund a number of initiatives including reconstruction and education programs as well as irrigation, electrification, and medical projects.

“Our mission is to preserve the Assyrian heritage in the homeland,” Benjamen said. “It is through our donor’s contributions that we are helping rebuild homes and villages as residents return home.”

To learn more about Assyrian Aid Society of America, visit their Facebook Page

Here is a slideshow of pictures from the evening:

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