The History of The Ramallah-American Club of Jacksonville
By John Rukab with contributions from Joy Batteh-Freiha
The early settlers from Ramallah were young men – fathers, sons, brothers, and cousins – who started arriving in Jacksonville, Florida in the 1920s and 1930s. They found work as salesmen, and some eventually opened businesses. Later, many joined various branches of the military serving their adopted country. Many would journey back and forth to Ramallah.
Those men found life in Jacksonville to be similar to Ramallah, and encouraged relatives living in Ramallah, as well as other U.S. cities, to join them in Jacksonville – and many of them did. Just like in Ramallah, the families gathered in each other’s homes – holding meetings and activities.
As the community grew, the idea of forming a Ramallah Club where all the relatives could gather and stay in touch first surfaced in the late 1940s. But it wasn’t until in 1953, when the pioneers of our community agreed to formally constitute the “Ramallah Club.” In 1954, it was chartered as a cultural, social, educational, and charitable organization with a membership of 52 Ramallah men. Officers were chosen among the membership.
As the Ramallah community steadily grew, so did the membership and justification for a permanent home or “Club house” for its members.
In 1959, pooling their resources together, the men of various families from Ramallah purchased property with an existing structure for its first clubhouse on Atlantic Boulevard in Jacksonville. In subsequent years, a banquet/meeting hall was added and additional land adjacent to the building was purchased.
This first clubhouse was a structure we often called “home.” It afforded our community to gather and mingle, hold picnics, weddings, engagements and other social activities. Many of our first generation children grew up at this Club. It was a true testament of the drive and determination of the families of Ramallah, to uphold our traditions and preserve our culture.
Envisioning even more growth, the membership purchased 5 acres of land on Parental Home Road on Jacksonville’s Southside in 1975, with the intention to construct a new and modern facility to accommodate the growing membership.
In one of the proudest moments in our Club’s history, our devoted members gathered one evening and one-by-one, stepped up and donated more than $50,000 to begin construction on the new clubhouse. Beaming with pride, young and old came to witness the opening dedication ceremony on October 29, 1977.
Today, nearly 60 years after our founding, the Ramallah-American Club of Jacksonville boasts a membership of almost 500 families. For decades, our Club has served as a link to our ancestral home of Ramallah. From generation to generation, our families come to “the Club” to celebrate, dedicate, and honor each other in good times and sad times.
We are thankful for the vision and insight of those early settlers. Our Club is one of the most active chapter clubs of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine. And we are a community partner with many of members giving of their time and talents to benefit numerous charitable organizations.
Our Club will continue extensive renovations to accommodate even more growth. Today, we are the visionaries for our children, and the promoters of our rich heritage.