On Wednesday, April 19, UCLA senior and Jewish Studies major, Elizabeth Ho, arranged for volunteer language instructors and students interested in learning new languages or in intercultural dialogue to meet for dinner . The event has taken place once per quarter since winter of 2016. There have been Persian-Hebrew, Chinese-Hebrew, and Spanish-Hebrew cafés, just to name a few.
Ho, who is President of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies’ Student Leadership Council, said that she encountered some tension from student groups when she was organizing the event but that the students who ultimately attended overcame their feelings about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to learn languages and eat dinner with people from potentially very different backgrounds.
“Some students were very hesitant because they’d never interacted with people that they disagreed with regarding the conflict on an apolitical level,” Ho said. “They’d never talked to these people about anything that wasn’t divisive or polarized. So for them to put that aside for a night I think was pretty difficult.”
Ho said she wants to diversify her field of study by bringing in students of all different cultures and also learn about people of various cultural backgrounds.
“I believe being passionate about your history and your culture should naturally lead itself to being passionate about other people’s cultures and histories, too,” she said.
The events start off with dinner (the food is related to the featured cultures), followed by 30-minute crash courses in each language, which are taught by students. Ho said she tries to find one native speaker and one student who is learning the language at UCLA to teach at the language cafés. The curriculum focuses on how to introduce yourself and learn useful phrases for college students, such as “major” and “beer.”
The event took place at Bunche Hall, with about half of the attendees being of Arabic background and the other half being Jewish. Ho’s Arabic professor agreed to give extra credit to any students enrolled in Arabic that also attended the event. Students wishing to learn more Arabic or Hebrew can take courses in the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department or enroll in the Arabic or Hebrew intensive programs offered this summer.
The Arabic-Hebrew Café did not lack for sponsors, with the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies as its lead sponsor and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, and the Olive Tree Initiative – an organization founded at UC Irvine that focuses on conflict analysis and resolution in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – listed as the event’s co-sponsors.