Once I got off the elevator, the savory aroma of Chinese food led me through Bunche Hall to the quarterly Hebrew Café, a language-learning event hosted by the university’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies in collaboration with the Confucius Institute. The event was timed quite appropriately as it coincided with the Chinese New Year which took place on Saturday, January 28th.
Elizabeth Ho, the President of the Jewish Studies Student Leadership Council, came up with the idea of the event because “through the Cafe, [she] is able to both expose students to Jewish Studies, as well as expose Jewish students to some more of the cultures around them.” Each quarter, the Center pairs Hebrew with another foreign language and holds the event as a means to promote an exchange of cultures. Last quarter, students at the café learned Hebrew and Ladino, a Hebrew-Spanish hybrid, and dined on Mexican-style pizza.
By the beginning of the event, the room was bustling with students from all across campus. There were aspiring ethnomusicologists, lawyers, and behavioral scientists. Tess Williams, one of the event participants, said this was her second time attending a Hebrew Café. She heard about the event through word of mouth and was pleased with the skills she acquired the first time around.
Not wanting to keep participants hungry, event organizers started with perhaps the most satisfying portion first — food! Partakers were invited to enjoy kosher cashew chicken, orange chicken, fried rice and steamed Chinese vegetables catered by Shanghai Diamond Garden Restaurant. Once café-goers loaded up their plates, the language aspect of the event began with a Chinese lesson given by Alisa Zheng, a second-year exchange student from Shanghai.
Thirteen percent of the world’s population speaks Chinese, Zheng said. She said that learning the language would open up many opportunities to communicate with the world’s 955 million native Chinese speakers. Zheng began the lesson with basic Chinese words such as, Nǐ Hǎo, which means “hello” and Xiè Xiè, which means “thank you.” Students also learned some of the more intricate social aspects of the language. For example, the phrase Hē Hē can have two different interpretations based on the user’s facial expression and manner. It can either mean “laugh out loud” if spoken with a friendly countenance, or it can be a sarcastic “rolling one’s eyes” kind of laugh if accompanied by the proper amount of sass.
Tal Boussi, a psychobiology student, led the Hebrew lesson. Tal is a native Hebrew speaker and jumped at the opportunity to teach Hebrew to fellow UCLA students when she joined the Center’s Student Leadership Council. She hopes that people will be exposed to Israeli culture through events like Hebrew Café. Tal began by teaching conversational Hebrew words and phrases such as Mah Hasha’a, which means “what time is it,” and Mah Ha’shem Shelach/Shelcha, meaning “what’s your name?”
While UCLA students with Chinese and Israeli heritage collaborated at the Hebrew Café, a wider collaboration between China and Israel has been developing in recent years with respect to technology and economic investment. According to a Jan. 1 article in Israel21C, China became the largest investor in Israeli goods in 2016, and Chinese-Israeli trade is at $11.4 billion per year. A Chinese media representative said that Chinese companies are interested in Israeli startups that specialize in cyber security, agriculture and artificial intelligence, while Tel Aviv Global CEO Eytan Schwartz said that despite cultural differences, he expects businesses from the two countries to work together more in the future.