March 8, 2004

Food, Dance Join Mideast Cultures

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Middle Eastern cultures united on students’ plates, and before students’ eyes, on Thursday at Noyes Community Center. With Basmati pilaf, Israeli salad and belly dancers, the members of Hillel, the Sephardi and Mizrahi Association at Cornell and the Iranian Students Association brought together over 100 guests at Sephardi-Persian Culture Night.

The event, funded by the above groups and the Kolker Saxon Hallock Grant, was intended to be a kickoff event for the new SMAC, but it also served to unite multiple Middle-Eastern culture groups on campus.

“We wanted to have a night where we’d have food and dancing, and teach people about some Middle-Eastern culture in between,” said Lily Hakim ’07, event organizer and one of the three founding members of SMAC.

The program started at 8 p.m., with people lined up to taste foods that they might not normally be offered, or tried, in the cafeteria. Though much of the food served had no ties to the Jewish religion, all of it was prepared at the Kosher Dining Hall, 104 West.

There was a significantly larger turnout than expected.

“Seventeen minutes after it started, [they were] already filling in seconds on food, and [were scared] that they might actually run out,” said Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow Toba Strauss.

At about 8:30 p.m., the entertainment started with performances from Be’ Ketsev, the Latin-Israeli dance group; Teszia, a group of belly dancers; the Persian Dance Troupe and a Yemenite singer from New York City.

Between performances, quarter cards explaining the relationship between Sephardic and Iranian cultures were distributed. Sephardi was originally the term used to describe Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492; it was later extended to include Jews in Muslim countries. Iran is home to one of the oldest and biggest Sephardic communities.

“We are very excited to bring the groups together,” said JCSC fellow Dan Yagoudin. “Sephardi-Persian Night is part of a larger mission of the Jewish Student Union to combine with others. We don’t want to provide for just the Jews at Cornell, but for the greater good of the campus.”

Organizers believed that the program was successful in reaching beyond the Jewish Community.

“I’m really happy with the diversity,” Hakim said.

Passersby, not affiliated with any of the groups planning the culture night, were lured in by the food and ended up staying.

“I was just passing through Noyes. I stopped because it looked like fun, and it is!” said Mimi Chang ’06.

“It’s a job well done; I’m really impressed,” Strauss said.

Archived article by Erica Fink