You’ve got to feel a certain affectionate respect for Vanessa Hidary when she pours out her “Hebrew Mamita” at Russell Simon’s Def’ Poetry, I am on HBO. She’s out there, a multicultural Jewish girl from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, demanding the largely black and Latino audience, “What does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a fuckin‘ roof for you?” Then she sings:
I’m the Hebrew Mamita/ Long-lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah/ The sexy, Oy Veying, matzoh-eating, Chutzpah-having, non-cheaping, non-conspiricizing/Always questioning, hip-hop listening, Torah scroll reading, all-people loving/ Pride-filled Jewish girl!
Hidary’s one-woman spoken-word performance, Culture Bandit, mounted this spring at New York’s East Village Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, opens with the violin strains of “Fiddler on the Roof,” then morphs into hip-hop and climaxes with outrage at anti-Semitism and racism. This is her coming-of-age story—gobbling up Hispanic and black culture as a high school student in the 1980s, innocently hanging out with her Puerto Rican girlfriend and black boyfriend until he started wearing a leather pendant in the shape of the African continent and told her she was no longer wanted. As far as both blacks and whites were concerned, she was the “race traitor/race invader,”
“1988—can things get any more complicated?” she asks as a track from Spike Lee’s” Jungle Fever” movie starts playing. The blacks in the audience at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe laugh.
Although Hidary draws on cliches of Eastern European Judaism and attended Hebrew school at Reconstructionist. Judaism’s Society for the Advancement of Judaism, her mother’s family is Syrian, She grew up with the affectionate nickname of ketta bu jeh (Arabic for “little cookie”), Hidary is her mother’s original name. She considers herself a cultural Jew, and for now, she’s keeping the Jewish message culturally simple. “It’s too confusing to explain,” she says. “I‘ve chosen right now just to tackle the Jewish thing in general, trying to do some healing with the communities.”
Hidary wrote Culture Bandit when she couldn’t find satisfying audition material. Now it’s been optioned for a screenplay. “I don’t know what else I care so passionately about,” she says.
She’s performing her one-woman show on college campuses. She says she is gratified to see Jewish students so excited, hearing a Jewish voice in a cool hip-hop environment.
Vanessa Hidary’s spoken-word CD sampler, which includes “Hebrew Mamita” and three other pieces, is available by e-mail from Vjavaqueen@nyc.rr.com. Her website is www.hebrewmamita.com.