Give Them A Chance

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America has always been known as a melting pot—and nearby New York City is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. Yet, until a couple of decades ago, Long Island remained pretty homogeneous.

In recent years, families have been moving east from Manhattan to Queens and now Long Island.

While some people welcome the opportunity to learn about new cultures, others are most comfortable being surrounded by people just like themselves and want to keep their neighborhoods that way. Often, close-minded individuals either make snap judgments about their new neighbors or perpetuate stereotypes.

In every culture, certain members actually do embody stereotypical traits; but, within the group, each person is an individual with unique values, beliefs and talents.

In several open-minded communities, these differences are not only welcomed, but embraced. Every year before winter break at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, the Inter-Cultural Unity Club organizes what has become many students’ favorite school day of the year. Families send in food from their culture, which students can sample throughout the day, while others highlight the richness of their culture through entertaining performances.

The parents witnessed this and craved an adult version of the program. A cultural exchange for grownups was launched a couple of months ago with the first Multicultural Dinner coinciding with Lunar New Year. Families of many backgrounds joined together to celebrate the East Asian holiday. This past week, community members gathered for the second Multicultural Dinner to celebrate the Indian spring festival Holi. The transformed school cafeteria transported guests to South Asia as they shared special traditions, showcased stunning fashions and dined on delicious delicacies.

When Persian Jews were persecuted and relocated from Iran to Great Neck in 1979, not all were welcomed with open arms. Last week, SHAI (Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc.) celebrated its 25th anniversary with an elaborate gala. Every stereotype that’s been perpetrated against this group was dispelled with its warm honoring of its accomplished community.

Unless your family was on the Mayflower, your descendants are somewhat recent immigrants, too. Do you only want to be judged by your ethnicity or religion? You are an individual, as are our newer neighbors. So, open your heart, your mind and your front door and allow your family to become enriched by all the wonderful diversity on Long Island.

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Sheri ArbitalJacoby brings more than three decades of publishing experience at national magazines to her position as editor of the Great Neck Record. She also writes decorating, travel, food and green articles for Long Island Weekly and Anton Media Group's special sections.

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