Festival of Nations

Library patrons learn about different cultures thanks to state grant

Using a state cultural programming grant, the Onondaga Free Library recently arranged for South Side residents to experience a “Festival of Nations.” Library officials hope to make the festival an annual event.

The library brought together people from the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-ji and the Syracuse Polish Home. Representatives from the Onondaga Nation were invited, but were unable to attend.

Library officials credited Republican State Sen. John DeFrancisco with helping arrange financial support. The grant allots $45,000 each year, for two years, for libraries in Onondaga County, according to the program.

“We have a lot of materials in our library that can help someone learn about these cultural organizations,” said Assistant Director Alyssa Newton. “By seeing what books, music and documents from these collections people were checking out, we figured out what groups would be great for our community to see.”

The library reached out to the Zen Center of Syracuse, 266 W. Seneca Turnpike, to perform demonstrations at the library. The center, which sits on six acres of land in the middle of the South Side, serves as a “serenity zone” for the community, said Joann Cooke, a Zen practitioner at the center. The center wants to bring people together through meditation and self-realization.

“There is something amazing and extremely powerful in sitting silently in a room, perfectly still with 20 other people,” Cooke said.

Shinge Roshi, a nationally known spiritual leader in the Zen community, leads the center in meditation. Members said they meditate together in the zendo to allow their true nature to come to the surface, answering the question of how they should live their lives.

Yao Xu, a resident student at the Zen Center, attended the festival to share her experiences of living at the center. Xu, a native of China, credits the center for being a place where she and community members can sit down together and support one another through Zen.

“I feel so integrated in this community to a large extent because we all communicate deeply without words,” Xu said. “It’s a new experience of how human beings can communicate with each other, and that touches me.”

The Festival of Nations intended to bring the com- munity together through cultural education and remind patrons about the diverse nature of the South Side.