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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Bridging gap between cultures can form new perspectives

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: Opinions

This past weekend, I went to the Brandeis Bridges performance, “Fires in the Mirror.” They put on a show about a conflict that took place between black and Jewish people. The story they told was of true events that took place in Crown Heights in 1991. One day, a seven-year-old boy of color was hit by a car driven by a Hasidic man. The boy died, and, later that night, a young, Jewish man from Australia studying in America was killed in what was thought to be an act of retribution. The play is based on the narratives of those who witnessed these events.

To say the least, there were narratives from either extreme on the black-versus-Jewish spectrum. What happened in Crown Heights all these years ago was terrible. Yet that’s not what people should take away from the show. Brandeis Bridges fellow Amanda Anderson ’17 said, “I want people to leave the show, taking all of the individual narratives into account. You need to look at all the different perspectives … because every perspective is important to understanding the entirety of any conflict.”

Looking at things from more than one angle can be eye-opening. That’s what “Fires in the Mirror” was about, seeing a sequence of events through so many sides, and hearing the underlying feelings that fueled people’s decisions in that time of turmoil. We are at a time in history where people of all kinds are trying to bridge the gap of various cultures, beliefs and so on. Nonetheless, in moving forward, I think there is something we all have to keep in mind.

Diversity is magnificent because I would be bored out of my mind if everyone were like me. Initiatives like Brandeis Bridges try to raise awareness of issues, so acceptance and understanding are more widespread. Diversity is defined as the state of being different. When we are trying to learn and understand others, we are still trying to maintain our own individuality.

As addressed in the play, how is someone observing Shabbat supposed to explain the reasons for their beliefs to a non-Jewish neighbor? To someone of a different background, refusing to turn off a loud and obnoxious radio may seem a little absurd, as showcased in the play. So in a time where we are searching for common ground, where do our own traditions rank in our lives? In addition to the difficulties of bridging cultures, people today must also struggle to balance their cultural beliefs and accept those of others they may not completely comprehend.

After their final performance, Brandeis Bridges held a discussion, where a parent of one of the performers voiced this precise concern. People of the same culture or background have things in common. They are comfortable with each other and they understand each other. Today, one of our biggest obstacles may be bridging the different sides, such as the black and Jewish ones portrayed in the play. Tomorrow, that will probably still be a challenge, but I think a compromise is possible. I think I can maintain my beliefs and my traditions, and learn why someone else has his or her beliefs and traditions.

I saw it every day in high school, and now as a first-year in college, I see it here. We are young people trying to figure out who we are. Each day people make little attempts to establish their identity. Some people search for ways to distinguish themselves from their family, while others try to retain their values in an atmosphere completely foreign to their home. No one said it was going to be easy, but finding that balance between how we were raised and what we believe is a growing pain for today’s maturing adolescents. We are encouraged to be open-minded, but to stick to our beliefs, and sometimes those can conflict.

The monologues of “Fires in the Mirror” portrayed people who were certainly stuck to their beliefs and closed-minded to any other perception of what happened in Crown Heights. I think that the Brandeis Bridges fellows are commendable in their effort to open the eyes of those who haven’t considered another’s perspective and to those who still let cultural barriers get in their way. I just want to remind people that looking forward, we are going to have to worry about the balances along with the bridges. People will continue to try to solidify their understanding of themselves, attempting not to get lost in the crowd of unique faces, just as much as they try to understand others.