My time at the National Yiddish Book Center

This past week, I participated in a program for high school students at the National Yiddish Book Center. Together with other Jewish teenagers from all around the country, I read some of the great masterworks of modern Jewish literature, such as “The Story of My Dovecote,” by Isaac Babel; The Hill of Evil Counsel, by Amos Oz; “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer; “The Loudest Voice,” by Grace Paley; and The Dybbuk, by S. Ansky, among others. This program changed my life because I didn’t really know that there was an entire canon of writing by Jewish authors on issues that pertain directly to the lives of Jewish people all over the world. We even read some work by Palestinian and Arab authors that centered around life in Israel.

One issue we debated time and time again during the program was the question of what constitutes Jewish literature. Does a piece have to be written by a Jewish author in order to qualify as a piece of Jewish literature? Is a piece written by a Jewish author automatically considered Jewish literature? What issues and themes must be present in a piece of literature in order for it to be a piece of Jewish literature? I personally feel that in order for a piece to be considered Jewish literature, it must be written by an author who identifies as Jewish. However, many of my peers in the program tried to argue the contrary, and it was fascinating to hear their perspectives. It made me look at what Jewish literature is in a new light.

Another question we pondered throughout the week was what Jewishness is. Is it a culture, a religion, or both? Can it be an ethnicity? Is it disrespectful to Jews By Choice to say that being Jewish is an ethnicity or a culture? Is the word “Jew” a bad word? When did it become a bad word and why? How can other aspects of identity, such as national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, affect one’s Jewish identity? Can someone identify with Jewish culture and not with the Jewish religion or vice versa? Walking into the program, I believed that Jewish was a cultural or ethnic identity, but one person argued that Jews By Choice are not any less Jewish because they were not born into a Jewish family, and that made me rethink that aspect of Jewish identity.

I also learned about all kinds of Jewish people from all over the world. We read work by and about Soviet Jews, Israeli Jews, Yemeni Jews, and so many other cultures. We also learned about the lives of Mizrahi Jews (Jewish people who come from majority Muslim countries) and Palestinians in Israel and the challenges that the people in those groups face. We also acknowledged that despite the challenges faced by Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews on a daily basis, the existence of the State of Israel is vital to the existence of the Jewish people. Without the State of Israel, so many Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from around the world would not have a place where they could safely practice their religion and learn about and embrace their culture.

One of my favorite books we read was The Hill of Evil Counsel, by Amos Oz. The book centers around a nine-year-old Jewish boy named Hillel and the challenges he faces while growing up in the British Mandate of Palestine (the name for the geographic area where the State of Israel is today before it became an independent state). Hillel’s life changes when he is sexually assaulted by two of his neighbors, but he eventually grows into a strong, capable young man. During our discussion, one of the teachers asked us why Oz decided to write about a little boy getting raped. The teacher’s theory was that it was an allegory for the creation of the State of Israel: Hillel getting assaulted represented the Holocaust, but his subsequent growing into a confident young man represented the creation of the State of Israel and our people’s newfound freedom therein. Although the Holocaust was one of the most horrific events in world history and never, ever should have happened, the Jewish people may have never gotten to have an independent nation of their own. The same goes for Hillel: although no human being should ever be raped, Hillel grew into the man he became because of the strength he had to develop to live as a person who has experienced sexual assault.

On the last day of the program, one of our teachers told us to keep reading because literature can save the world, especially in today’s political climate. If young people begin to educate themselves on the world around them, maybe less bad things would happen. We can only change the future if we know our past, and the best way to learn about our past is to read about other people’s experiences. The insights of those who came before us can shed a light on how to navigate the world today.


Dance tag

I got the questions from http://hipsterballerina.blogspot.com/2015/05/dance-tag.html.

How long have you been dancing?

I took my first dance class when I was five and stayed at that same studio until I was eight. I quit dance when I was eight because I was in a company that rehearsed several days a week for many hours, and that started to take a toll on my second-grader brain and body. I did not return to dance until I was 12, at which point I had discovered YouTube videos of other kids my age who were really good dancers. I tried to teach myself how to dance from the videos, and I did learn a few steps, but my mother insisted upon signing me up for a hip-hop class at a local community center. I loved it, but I was practicing for my bat mitzvah at the time, so I had to drop dance to prepare for my bat mitzvah. I did not return to dance until I was 14 when I signed up for a hip-hop class at a studio in my neighborhood. So, as of now, I have been dancing for three consecutive years, with a few dance classes as a tiny tot.

What are your least favorite styles of dance?

Last year, I took a general dance class at school, and we studied ballet for a month. It required so much attention to the tiniest details that I wanted to rip my hair out of my head one strand at a time. It was so frustrating, but I did really well on my final ballet exam. Ballet would probably be my least favorite because of the agony it requires to do it well.

What are your favorite styles of dance?

Currently, I’m doing jazz, and I would say that’s my favorite. I also love hip-hop and musical theater. In the general dance class at school, we did a month-long tap unit, and I absolutely fell in love with that. However, I had to stop tap because my brother was rather annoyed at my incessant practicing. Jazz is a lot quieter to practice.

Are you a competitive dancer?

As much as I would love to compete, I don’t have enough experience to do it. Also, most competition teams rehearse even more than I did at the studio I quit back in second grade, and those hours combined with my normal homework load would lead to zero sleep and plummeting grades.

What is one dance flaw that you have that you would change, or a flaw on your body that would help you with dance?

My feet are absolutely horrible for dance. My arches are very wonky, and when I put my legs together and point my feet, I look like I’m sickling my feet. If you don’t know what a sickled foot looks like, Google it. They’re atrocious.

What is your favorite dance step?

I like jumps, leaps, and kicks. My favorite step is probably a tiger leap, a la seconde leap, or a fouette leap.

What do you want to improve on?

I want to improve on balance because I am about as stable on one foot as a wilting plant in a hurricane.

Barefoot or dance shoes?

My studio doesn’t require dance shoes, so I’ve never actually danced in dance shoes. I would generally say barefoot because although it makes turning harder, there is less risk of slipping if you’re dancing barefoot and not wearing shoes or socks.

Tights or no tights?

Tights, for sure! It’s much more comfortable to dance in tights.

What is your favorite dancewear brand?

I like Balera because it’s one of the cheapest dancewear brands, but the quality of their dancewear is consistently really great. Balera dancewear is also pretty easy to move in, which is the most important thing to look for in dancewear.

What styles of dance do you currently do?

The only style of dance I currently do is jazz.

Is dance your favorite sport?

I consider dance to be more of an art than a sport because of the emotional vulnerability it requires to be a skilled dancer, and the creative control a choreographer has over almost every element of a routine, from the music to the costumes to the movement itself.

What dancer do you look up to?

I look up to a tap dancer named Ava Brooks because she very much goes against what is currently “cool” in the dance world, aka doing 5,000 pirouettes and stretching your leg farther above your head than a reasonable human being should. She is so committed to tapping, and she is probably one of the most skilled tappers out there right now. Definitely check her out on YouTube. Like I said, nobody is doing what she is doing right now.

What style of dance do you find the most difficult?

I find ballet the most difficult because of the level of detail you have to go into to make a ballet routine look good.

Why do you love to dance?

I tend to be a person who lives very much in my head. I overthink absolutely everything, and dance gives me the opportunity to get out of my head and into my body. I always feel really calm after I dance, especially when I nail a routine or master a new step. Nothing compares to the feeling of finally mastering a new move. Although I haven’t been dancing for a long time, I can see myself dancing for as long as I physically can. With dance, I can express things that I can’t express in words and channel everything that’s bothering me into movement, which is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do.

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25 Get to Know Me Questions

I got the questions from: https://meganhasocd.com/2015/02/12/25-get-to-know-me-questions-tag/.

1) What is your middle name?

My middle name is Irene, after my great-grandmother who had the same name.

2) What is your favorite subject in school?

It depends on what teacher I have. I firmly believe that a great teacher can make any subject interesting to learn. This past year, my favorite class was English because my teacher was funny, but she also pushed me to my limits and I learned a lot. The year before, I had a really great math teacher, so I liked that class the best.

3) What is your favorite drink?

My favorite drink is a Shirley Temple. I don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with the fact that it’s basically two different forms of liquid sugar.

4) What is your favorite song at the moment?

I’ve been really obsessed with “Strangers,” by Halsey and Lauren Jauregui. The song itself is really fun and catchy, but deep and haunting at the same time. It is also the first pop song by two openly bisexual women singing about a same-sex relationship, and that is really important because there is essentially a total lack of accurate and respectful bisexual representation in the media. Bisexual people are usually portrayed as mentally unstable and indecisive, but bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation and should be respected as such. Okay, that turned into a rant really quickly, but my main point is, go Halsey and Lauren Jauregui! Yay representation!

5) What is your favorite food?

I love ice cream, especially cookies and cream ice cream. I also love Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked ice cream. My favorite “real” food would have to be either pizza or macaroni and cheese.

6) What is the last thing you bought?

A baseball cap that says “And Peggy,” which is, of course, a reference to everyone’s favorite forgotten Schuyler Sister from Hamilton. I really like the hat because it looks like the cover of Beyonce’s self-titled album. Two references in one!

7) Favorite book of all time?

I really like this book called Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer. All of the characters, except for the main antagonist, are incredible human beings who seem like they could be actual people, but they’re not because they are all way too good for this world.

8) Favorite color?

Pink, for sure! There are certain shades of pink I like better than others, but almost everything I own is at least a little bit pink, and if it’s not pink, it’s usually purple and/or teal.

9) Do you have any pets?

No. I did have a hamster who died after a month. Both my dad and I are allergic to all animals with fur, so, much to my younger brother’s dismay, my family cannot get a pet.

10) Favorite perfume?

I don’t use perfume, just deodorant. Lately, my deodorant of choice has been Dove Original Clean. I think that gender-based marketing of products is completely bogus, and the deodorant I’ve been using has a relatively androgynous scent and packaging, so if you’ve been looking for a “gender-neutral” scent, go with Dove Original Clean. *Disclaimer: this is NOT a sponsored post, just my opinion!*

11) Favorite holiday?

I like Halloween because I love costumes and candy. What could be better?

12) Are you married?

No! I’m a teenager!

13) Have you ever been out of the country?

No, but I would love to at some point. *hint hint MOM AND DAD IF YOU’RE READING THIS hint hint*

14) Do you speak any other languages?

I have been studying Spanish since 2nd grade, and I can speak and understand it pretty well. I might even do a post in Spanish at some point, you never know (:

15) How many siblings do you have?

I have a younger brother, and we have a very stereotypical relationship in that I’m the goody-two-shoes older sister and he’s the “No! I’m not taking a shower!” variety of younger brother. I love him very much, though. He can be really sweet and adorable.

16) What is your favorite shop?

There’s a local bookstore in my hometown that I’m absolutely in love with. It takes all the willpower in the world not to spend my entire life savings every time I’m in there.

17) Favorite restaurant?

A local Mexican food joint that’s also in my hometown. The quesadillas there are quite tasty.

18) Last time you cried?

This story deserves another blog post entirely, but basically, I signed up for a drawing class, but it was way too challenging, and I was so overwhelmed that I ran to the bathroom and cried. Real mature, I know.

19) Favorite blog?

One of my fellow teen bloggers, Emily, runs a brilliant blog called Just A First Draft. The blog is about reading, writing, and life in general. A lot of her older posts can be found on Saltare Into Life, and everything she writes makes me want to be a better human being.

20) Favorite movie?

Moana is definitely my favorite movie. It has a strong, teenage, female protagonist of color, no romantic subplot, and all of the lyrics in English were written by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda!

21) Favorite TV show?

I watch more YouTube videos than TV, but I really like Glee, The Voice, and When We Rise. I also started watching Parks and Recreation recently, and I really like that show.

22) PC or Mac?

I like Macs better, but due to my limited budget, I use a PC.

23) What phone do you have?

I have a flip phone for calls and texts and a 6th-generation iPod touch for everything else a smartphone does. It’s a great system because I never have to worry about my phone dying, and if I have WiFi, I can do smartphone-y stuff! However, I’m probably going to need a smartphone as an adult so I can take Ubers or Lyfts.

24) How tall are you?

5 feet, 4 and a quarter inches. DON’T FORGET THE QUARTER INCH!!!

25) Can you cook?

I can make frozen food in the microwave, scrambled eggs, and grilled cheese. Cooking makes me skittish, though, because I am klutzy and accidentally getting splashed with boiling water or hot oil is not my idea of a good time.