If you’ve ever walked through the greeting card section of a drugstore around December, you’re probably familiar with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Maybe you’ve even heard of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. But since I was asked if the sukkah (“hut” in Hebrew) in Barnard’s quad was for the purposes of a Fire Prevention Week demonstration, I think it’s safe to assume that the holiday of Sukkot is not one that many students have been exposed to.
If you’ve seen groups of students taking their lunches out into the aforementioned tentlike booth in the quad, or been offered a curious arrangement of three branches and a bumpy lemon, or been asked if you’d like to recite a blessing and give it a shake, allow me to solve the mystery: These are some of the ways Sukkot is observed. These rituals may seem unusual, or even bizarre, but they are only a few of the many practices that start conversations on campus.
Since I’ve grown up celebrating Sukkot, the sight of an outdoor cubicle at this time of year, as autumn stealthily creeps up on summer, is something I’ve come to expect. Yet having one in such a central area of campus caused me to look at it with a different set of eyes. I watched passersby quizzically glance at the sukkah on their way to class. I saw students peek in as those sitting inside ate lunch under the roof of bamboo shoots. I observed clusters of prospective students touring the quad and circling the structure, trying to decide whether or not it is a permanent part of Barnard’s landscape. When I carried the eye-catching collection of plants that made up the Four Species through campus, it was a similar experience, causing raised eyebrows and puzzled looks. I suppose I always knew that to the average person, a holiday that involved sitting outside in makeshift booths and waving around a bundle of obscure plants would seem really weird. Still, it felt odd to see objects so familiar to me appear so foreign to others. I was always relieved when occasionally a curious onlooker finally would ask the question that everyone else was probably thinking: “What’s that?”
This type of communication is essential for a cohesive community, especially one as broad and panoptic as ours. Diversity is a dialogue that should not be passively experienced during one’s time in college. It is claimed to enrich one’s view of the world, to broaden one’s mind to the vastness of the human condition, but it is not merely this overarching ideology that we all ascribed to by enrolling. Diversity is alive—something to take in, as well as take part in. Every one of us contributes to its existence by openly living our lives the way we want to and asking others the questions that start conversations.
Going public with our practices or seeking answers that we’re curious for may feel strange, but we must be willing to transcend that if we are to truly call ourselves a diverse campus. Otherwise, the sukkah will remain a Fire Prevention Week demonstration, and the Four Species will just be a bunch of random vegetation.
The four colleges that make up our community are a microcosm of the four corners of the earth, but that fact alone is not enough. It is daring to make a public display of who we are. It is the awkward questions and the subsequent helpful explanations. It is only when we share with our peers the different practices and perspectives that we brought along to New York that the multicultural, multiracial splendor of the student body can be appreciated and experienced with all of the senses.
Despite the weirdness—or perhaps because of it.
The author is a Barnard College first-year.
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