Slice of Life
I had transferred from Hunter College, whose long corridors resemble a New York City street in rush hour, because I wanted to study in a more personal atmosphere. Coming from Israel, I’d seen TV examples of the “perfect” American college; but Hunter was a large and busy pool of fish. I preferred a smaller, clearer pool, where all the fish can be seen for their nice colors— a place where I wouldn’t disappear in daily traffic.
And I did encounter a lovely sense of togetherness during orientation, which reminded me of a kibbutz in Israel. This feeling lasted for about two weeks.
As the semester went along, I found that individuality and community can have difficulties walking hand in hand. We have our tight group of confidants, a larger circle of friends and perhaps a club with whose members we associate, but this is far from an all-contained society. Students enjoy feeling that they have someone’s back to lean on, yet they want to walk their own path. Bringing such people together can be strenuous. But just as one must go deeper into the water to find the good pearls, so must one go through layers of idiosyncrasy to find the desire for a community.
Shared traditions can unite a society—but Sarah Lawrence is not exactly a traditional place. Yet there actually are a few traditions in our untraditional campus. The Poetry Festival, which celebrated its second year; Bacchanalia, everyone’s favorite senior party; and the Coming Out Dance, a tradition which will be suspended this year because of problems with alcohol.
But where some traditions die, others are created. Such, I hope, will be the case with an experiment last fall called “Tasting Culture.”
I remember when I first asked the chairs of the identity groups on campus to gather and discuss cooperation; predictably, only a few came, and those who did come looked at me, puzzled. I was chair of the Students for Israeli-Palestinian Peace club—it was my first year being active on campus, and people hadn’t known me before.
“What’s in it for us?” one of them asked with a suspicious look, as if attempting to find a secret agenda I was hiding. In fact, I did have my motives: I wanted to cooperate with other groups in order to reach more students and to create a larger impact on the community, which would be to everyone’s gain. The group leaders uneasily agreed to entertain the idea, and, after a long intellectual discussion (some SLC traditions will never die) about which kind of program would be most successful, we all agreed that the universal attraction for students of all backgrounds can be put into one word: food.
Ofer Ziv '06 was born and raised in Israel. An aspiring writer and poet, he came to New York in 2000 after finishing his military service. In 2004-05 he was chair of the Students for Israeli-Palestinian Peace club and an Israel Advocacy Intern at Hillel of Westchester.
We devised a night of cultural celebration to be called “Tasting Culture.” Each group would present its unique cuisine and various items related to its culture. The night would also feature a student talent show, presenting pieces about diversity,
culture and internationality. The funds for the event came from Student Senate and The Diana Leslie Fund. But although we had student performances and food, two essential ingredients in the recipe for a well attended event, we could not guarantee its success.
I will never forget the ten minutes before 8:00 that November night in Bates dining hall. The stage was set, little flames under the aluminum pans were heating the food, helium balloons were up and we were all waiting quietly. It was raining, and I doubted if anyone would show up. We had no way of telling how the event would turn out even moments before it began. Then… five people walked in nonchalantly. A few moments later another group followed them, and more and more. Soon a river of people was flowing to Bates. Loreen Lee ’07, co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for Action and Diversity, and I looked at each other amazed. It was exciting, confusing—and heart-lifting.
Students shared not just extraordinary food, but poetry, songs, dance and even Irish limericks. The most memorable moment for me was when Richard Contreras ’06 said “Tasting Culture” reminds him of what he loves about the Sarah Lawrence community: the safety and freedom we have to express diversity.
I’m growing to understand that one’s community can’t be conventionally measured. It’s like a family, a close and essential circle that supports us as we learn to walk on our own. Sarah Lawrence’s community may not always be tangible, but it is out there to be shaped and expanded. And there is enough encouragement from the school to do so. I suppose that community and individuality can dwell in different levels inside us. And although we may often underestimate the importance of community to us, somewhere we need it and wish for it just the same.
I plan to repeat “Tasting Culture” this year and I hope it will establish itself as a school tradition. Although I expect my time to be more limited, between a professional internship and organizing a book tour for my favorite Israeli author, I want to remain active on campus. Where else does almost everyone at a school perform or share their work with others? Students—these glowing, beautiful fish in the clear, nurturing pond that is Sarah Lawrence—have gifts that can be put to the service of their community.
All it takes is ideas, inventiveness, the desire to connect—and some good food.