joseph graif, Alum
Graduate School of Business 1978
Columbia College 1976
I came to the College in the fall of 1972 as an eager music major. Having already worked as a pastoral musician (organist and choir director) in the Catholic church since the age of 12, I considered myself to be knowledgable and experienced. Even though I was born and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, the fact is that my decidedly "middle middle-class" background had left me completely ignorant of other religions and cultures. There were only three African-American kids in my high school class, and I had NEVER met a Jewish person in my life (consider that fact given the demographics of the typical Columbia College class in the early 1970's!).
As I met and befriended many Jewish students, I reveled in their unique ethnicity as I worked to cope with the shocking realization of my own cultural isolation (I didn't know that people actually lived in manhattan!). However, I also discovered many similarities between their culture and mine (Italian-American); most notably the importance of family and the interaction among family members. I felt somewhat comforted by this but still considered myself at a disadvantage because my Jewish friends were more familiar with my culture than I was with theirs. I envied them for having been raised and educated to better understand the cultural breadth and depth of the world. A lot of work was needed on my part to achieve parity.
Along the way, my friends and I discovered that there were indeed spiritual ties between Catholics and Jews that were nothing less than revelations to us. In particular, whenever we would discuss our faiths, we found that almost all of the parables related by Jesus Christ in the New Testament can also be found (with only slight variations) in the Torah. The existence of these parallel moral guidelines served not only to help us each to better understand the other's beliefs but also to act as a bridge between two otherwise incompatible religions.
It was the "social" component of student life at Columbia that provided me with the building blocks of personal integrity and spirituality. They have always served as my guide.