Vanessa Hidary, Ageless Diva, Spoken Word Artist, Actress, Writer, Director
Her feminist-Jewish viva Puerto Rico!
Out there on stage, it’s impossible to separate out being a woman and being a Jew. One of my shows starts, “I meet a guy in a bar. ‘You don’t look Jewish.’ He says it in this tone that sounds like he’s complimenting me, and I say…nothing. Should I fiddle on a fuckin’ roof for you? Should I humor you with my ‘oy veys’ and refuse to pay?”
I call myself The Hebrew Mamita; I grew up in an urban, ethnically mixed neighborhood in Manhattan, and I’m half Syrian-Jew, half Russian-Jew; for a few years I dated the guy who owned the bodega on my corner. So my fans…they can love me for the cultural part, the racial part, the religious part, the woman part. I love the range. I embrace multiculturalism, and celebrate being distinctly female and Jewish.
Being a Jewish woman, though, I get criticism for not fitting a more conservative role, for using profanity; they want me to be a poster child of Jewish womanhood. But other people praise me for putting a positive message about Jews out there.
Men can be loud and angry and curse and no one is criticizing them. But as a Jewish woman, you’re seen under a different microscope — hearing a woman talk in such a strong way, men can feel threatened. You’re seen as bitter, too vocal. The criticism makes me feel bad — I still want to be a ‘good girl’ — but it doesn’t stop me. I wrote “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega” because I’m still a single Jewish woman, one of the good ones waiting to be snatched up; who’s gonna get that last kaiser roll?
When I started writing, a voice was missing for “urban Jewish female experience.” I didn’t know I was going to write so much about being Jewish, it just started coming out. I was very involved in race, in the hip-hop community, very affected by the tensions and joys of multiculturalism; there is still a lot of tension between groups. I was a good person to build some bridges through art. I started writing monologues because nothing out there fit my voice. I wanted to write about being me. I was looking for it — it wasn’t there! I knew it was different, special, people were listening.
I have a piece, “Culture Bandit.” Baruch Atah Adonai / Viva Puerto Rico! / Ha’olam/Ha’motzi / Fight the Power/ Min Ha-Aretz/ Amen.
How can we diversify the pool of female Jewish characters?
As told to S.S.
[Catch Hidary performing at: www.hebrewmamita.com]