This week’s Historical Ha’Am article was chosen because of its relevance to the journey that many of us go through as we navigate our UCLA Jewish journeys. While we are lucky to attend a world-class university of UCLA’s prestige, it sometimes means that we are so overwhelmed by learning about the cultures of others both in and out of the classroom that we forget to spend time exploring our own. Please allow Calanit Greenberg to remind you of the importance of setting aside time to further your understanding of your own culture in this article from Spring of 2005:
“In today’s post modern world, characterized by humanitarianism and cultural openness, there has evolved an interesting phenomenon in which several young adults have focused their cultural enrichment upon nations that are not their own.
Among this trend of politically correct cultural enlightenment, students are taught to appreciate the history of other nations and other peoples. What many teachers have forgotten to impart on the youth of our generation is a very important question–what about your people?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Diversity and education are indeed important for our understanding of the world and for the sake of peaceful relations. We are fortunate to live in the United States, a remarkable nation, notable for freedom that promotes great opportunities for diversity as a source of worldly education.
Furthermore, Los Angeles, my home of nearly twenty years, exists not only as a cultural alphabet soup, but as a resource to observe and know many cultures. I myself am a trained peer facilitator under the Anti-Defamation League, which promotes programs to spread awareness about prejudice and racism, to create a tolerant education of our peers and other members of the diverse world in which we live.
Amidst this experience as a peer facilitator during my high school years, I developed a sense of awareness and openness for people of other cultures, fine-tuning an acute sensitivity to understanding other people and appreciating their rich culture.
Yet, while a function of my activities existed to encourage unity among students through the education of other cultures, I sometimes lost sight of my own culture, citing the importance of learning about others.
So, who cares? I was a Jew. I often inserted that notorious catch phrase “Oy,” while laughing at Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up routines and Woody Allen neurotic movies. I enjoyed the sweetness of apples dipped in honey, thankful for the New Year, as it was a “pupil free day” from the highly Jewish public high school I attended.
But there was something in me that told me there must be more. There must be more to being Jewish than eating large stale crackers called “matzah” on Passover, or receiving gifts from under the Hanukkah Bush. Or is it the Chrismakuh Tree?
So, upon entering UCLA, I made a secret promise to myself to learn more. I didn’t know what exactly that would entail, but a promise is a promise.
My first quarter at UCLA certainly provided many opportunities from many people and groups to fulfill what I had set out to do. I attended various events, some JAM, and many Hillel. I was intrigued. Well, maybe intrigued is pushing it. Hey, it was fun, I met nice people and there was a lot of free food involved.
But, very soon it became more than that.
Every Friday night, I attended Hillel Shabbat services, followed by a tasty kosher meal. The uplifting singing coupled with nice company further augmented the pleasantries of my newfound weekly tradition. Occasionally after the meal, I made a trip to a periodic AEPi party, completing my night as a full experience of Judaism.
At this point, I felt pretty good about things. In addition to Friday nights, I reserved my Tuesdays for SCUBA, more good kosher food. But, Wednesday is a different story.
Now, this may be the point where some of you stop reading, because as soon as I tell you about my experience at JAM’s Wednesday night PIT, you’re(sic) tendency would be to cover your ears and say “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!,” but you should really keep reading anyway.
So, one Wednesday night, my very dear friend suggested we check out PIT. I complied, curious to see what would await me at an event in which both its name and its sponsor’s could be utilized in witty puns.
Upon entering the room, anticipating what would come of my night(sic). Several students sat in circles talking and having a good time, awaiting the commencement of a discussion with a rabbi or teacher.
My friend and I elected to have a private group with a rabbi. Yet, instead of picking something to teach, or what I used to assume as proselytization, he offered us the opportunity to ask whatever we wanted. My feminist side took this as an opportunity to question what I thought was one of the many sexist stories of the Torah: why is Eve considered to be the devil? What about Adam, huh – HUH?!
I actually got a nice answer I couldn’t argue with. It turns out that my perceptions had been based upon too many movies, and I realized that it was time to alter my way of thinking.
What I came to understand after battling with the Judaism that I had so carefully avoided, something many don’t want to hear, is that I had been so open-minded that part of my brain fell out. I treasured other cultures and ethnicities, sympathizing with their struggles, learning about their history and enjoying their music. Yet, while I was so open to other people, I had been closed off to my own. And now upon approaching the halfway point of my UCLA career I have a lot to look back upon, but even more to look forward to.
So, take this unique opportunity as an undergraduate to take advantage of available resources. Because face it, we all have a lot of free time. There are all sorts of Jewish organizations on campus to satisfy your Jewish needs, whether it be Hillel, Chabad, JAM, or JSU. It’s a great way to get involved at UCLA and to learn about yourself.
College is a time to discover our place in life and learn more about who we are. Plus, while learning about other cultures is an admirable quality, some good food and nice company along the way can’t hurt.”
-Calanit Greenberg, Spring 2005