This past Thursday, UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies held its first-ever cross-cultural event, the Chinese-Hebrew Cafe, at which attendees gathered to learn about Chinese and Jewish societies as well as learn some Chinese and Hebrew. The event was cosponsored by CJS and the UCLA Confucius Institute, which studies Chinese language and culture.
The idea for the event was created by Elizabeth Ho, a third-year Jewish Studies major and a member of the CJS’s Student Leadership Council. Ho explained that the idea for the Cafe came after noticing that “non-Jewish people in Jewish events are the exception — they’re rare.” She decided to organize an event to facilitate cultural exchange between some of the different people and departments that make up our diverse school.
With the help of Martin Luther Chan, a doctoral student in UCLA’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Roxana Yaghoobian, a fourth-year psychology major and fellow member of the Council, and others, Ho spent the past few months making connections with the different Chinese and Jewish organizations at UCLA. With the help of Dr. Mary Pinkerson, who facilitates and leads the Council, Ho was able to connect with the Confucius Institute, which invited Dr. Jianjun Hu, a visiting professor from Shanghai Jiaotong University with the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, to speak at the event.
All their work and effort definitely paid off. One of the first things I noticed upon arrival was the enormous number of people that came out to this event. So many people, in fact, that it took me a number of minutes just to make it through the door. The room was filled with people conversing in English, Hebrew, and Chinese and the kosher Chinese food provided by Shanghai Diamond Garden.
The first part of the event consisted of Hu’s educational and entertaining presentation about the similarities and differences between Chinese and Jewish cultures. The professor managed to keep the students laughing throughout his lesson. Later, a few Israeli and Chinese students taught the crowd words and phrases in Hebrew and Chinese, which were reiterated and practiced. Throughout the event, Jewish and Chinese students interacted and appeared to enjoy the evening.
The Chinese-Hebrew Cafe seemed to fulfill the planners’ goal of producing a bridge between the Jewish and Chinese communities at UCLA and giving students a basic knowledge of each language and culture. UCLA’s active Jewish community is tightly-knit, and, in general, there is little interaction on campus between different cultural organizations. Cross-cultural interaction allows for better understanding of other students, and organized events make such interaction fun and appealing. This Cafe is trailblazing a path that will ultimately lead to greater connections between the Jewish community and other cultural communities at UCLA.
Ho has ambitions to make the Cafe a regular event to build and encourage cross-cultural interaction. “I want to make this Cafe, in time, to be a family meeting, in a way,” she explained. “You come meet old friends, make new friends, and eat good food. ”
For those interested, the next CJS Cafe will be a Persian-Hebrew event and to be held during Week 2 of spring quarter.