By Stephanie Burton
It's not often that university students have the opportunity to eat with a matching fork and knife, let alone with a prominent artist. But thanks to the "Dinner with Matching Silverware" program sponsored by UCLA Hillel, students have the unique opportunity to dine, socialize and pick the mind of a local arts professional along with their fellow artistic-minded, or at least artistically curious, Jewish friends.
The idea for Dinner with Matching Silverware was sparked by Perla Karney, the artistic director of the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel, who wanted "to bring students and highly accomplished artists in our community together in an elegant setting." Together with UCLA Associate Director Arlene Miller, Karney selects eight to 12 students, regardless of their majors, for each event.
In the four dinners thus far this year, the featured artists have included an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Laura Bialis, who talked about the struggles and successes behind making a documentary; Karen Winnick, a well-known children's book author and illustrator; and Phylliss Mann, a highly respected furniture and accessories designer. The most recent guest was Emmy- and Grammy-nominated composer William Goldstein, who took time from composing music for a Broadway musical to convey his passions to "a group of young, Jewish, inquisitive minds."
"It touches me when I'm able to touch someone else. Music is an emotionally connective art; you're able to connect below the surface," Goldstein said. "I continuously have to reconcile between being an artist and being a Jew. I love the Jewish people, and I love bright people."
UCLA student Esther Azal, who attended the event with Goldstein, said enjoyed the program's intimate atmosphere and his after-dinner performance.
"When he sat down at the piano and started playing, it was phenomenal, supernatural, enjoyable," Azal said.
Beyond dining with a renowned artist, however, students also appreciate Dinner with Matching Silverware as an easy way for them to connect with Jewish students whom they may not have otherwise met.
"For me, this is better than big events at Hillel where you always end up hanging out with the people you already know. We are all in different majors at UCLA, but our love of music was a bond between us," Azal added.
Stephanie Burton is a senior at The George Washington University and an intern in Hillel's communications department.