Meet Dr. Tony Makdisi: With Syria in his heart, a hope for its return to peace
A Christmas visit to Syria was obviously out of the question for Dr. Tony Makdisi. He and his wife and daughters last went back in 2009, before civil war tore his country apart.
They celebrate Christmas at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 1304 North St. in Pittsfield. And they have Christmas phone calls with their relatives in Syria: Makdisi has five sisters there.
“They celebrate Christmas more or less like always,” he says about them. “They live their lives more or less like always.”
He explains that not all of Syria is suffering the ravages of war the way the city and people of Aleppo are.
The Christian minority in the country, about 10 percent of the population, by and large have it better. Makdisi speaks with a mixture of pride and sorrow about the Syria that he grew up in.
“My town is called Kfarbou. It has 20,000 people and five churches and people can worship the way they like.”
He talks about “before the war” but does so in the present tense. He holds on to the hope that Syria can find peace again.
“Syria is a beautiful country. It’s nothing like what people hear in the news right now. I can tell you there is definitely religious freedom in Syria. You can do whatever you want, you can drink wine in the street if you want and nobody bothers you about it.”
Dr. Makdisi, 49, came to the United States in 2000 and to Pittsfield in 2005. He is a hospitalist at Berkshire Medical Center: “a hospitalist is an internal medicine doctor, a general practitioner like your family doctor, who cares for patients who are hospitalized.”
He also specializes in palliative care to help patients at the end of their lives be as comfortable and pain free as possible.
His medical degree is from Damascus University. The American trained and board certified doctors who taught him there made him want to come to the United States.
“They looked to me like they were so smart and so knowledgeable. I just wanted to be just like them.”
Makdisi vividly remembers his first Christmas in America.
“I remember going to Rockefeller Center in New York to see the tree. It was amazing! And at first you can imagine the glory of Christmas here, and then you realize that it is about shopping and gifts and vacations and food.”
Christmas in Syria is also celebrated with food and an exchange of gifts, Makdisi says. “But there is a little more the religious spiritual aspect of it, more than the shopping opportunity. If someone is sick over Christmas, you go visit them to wish him well. When somebody has died recently and his family cannot celebrate, you go visit them.”
Tony Makdisi and his wife Fadia are happily settled in Pittsfield’s Williams Street neighborhood with their three daughters Helen and Joyce, both 9, and Grace, 6.
“Before we had our own twins, I could never really believe it when other people described the differences between their twins. But they are really different,” their father says. He practically gushes with pride describing his daughters in the Accents podcast on berkshireeagle.com.
“We made our love for Syria contagious,” he says. “Our daughters actually describe themselves a lot of times as Syrian girls. We went back in 2009 when we had them baptized there, but they don’t remember that.”
The possible relocation of Syrian refugees to Pittsfield has caused controversy, their Muslim background seemingly an issue.
“As a Syrian, I’ll be more than happy to help anyone,” Dr. Makdisi says. “I have no idea if they are actually Muslims or not. It doesn’t really matter to me. I am beyond the idea of Muslims and Christians, I am not really into that. But if anyone contacts me I’ll be more than happy to help them in whatever way I can.”
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