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Busting stereotypes through slam poetry: “The Hebrew Mamita” comes to CT

By Cindy Mindell

Hebrew Mamita

A guy walks up to Vanessa Hidary in a bar and they hit it off; he asks her to meet him for dinner the following week. Hidary tells him she can’t: it’s Rosh Hashana.
“You don’t look Jewish,” he replies. Hidary says nothing…
Until the performance poet works the scenario into her signature piece, “The Hebrew Mamita,” and replies: “I am the Hebrew Mamita, long-lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah, the sexy, oy-veying, Matzah eating, Chutzpah-having, non-cheating, non-conspirasizing, always questioning, hip-hop-listening, Torah-scroll-reading, all-people-loving, pride-filled Jewish girl…”
Later in the piece, Hidary promises, “I will use my gift to only uplift and maybe change just one heart tonight.”
The poet and actress became known as “The Hebrew Mamita,” a signature that names the different parts of her personality and cultural identity. While she never had an opportunity to answer the assertion directly, Hidary uses her work to confront stereotypes and explore issues of identity and the idea of fitting in.
“The Hebrew Mamita” will bring her performance to the Stamford JCC on Sept. 12, in a special program for teens and a later show for adults.
A native of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Hidary grew up in a culturally diverse world, the daughter of a Syrian-Jewish father and an Ashkenazi-Jewish mother. She attended an experimental public school with Latino and African-American students, and also went to Hebrew school. Through a close friendship with a Latina in high school, she began to blur and blend cultural norms, feeling at home as a chubby girl among Puerto Rican peers, whose culture celebrated the curvy body.
Hidary graduated from LaGuardia High School of the Arts and Hunter College, then went on to earn an MFA in acting from the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. In her first solo performance piece, “Culture Bandit,” Hidary chronicles her coming-of-age during the height of hip-hop and her dedication to fostering understanding and friendship among all people. Originally produced by LAByrinth Theatre Company, directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz, “Culture Bandit” became a national touring show.
Among her many appearances around the U.S. and beyond, Hidary has performed three times on “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” on HBO, and is featured in the short film, “The Tribe,” selected for the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland.
Hidary performed at the 2009 Limmud Fest of Jewish learning in England and was chosen as one of 50 speakers to appear at the 2010 “ideacity – Canada’s Premier Meeting of the Minds.” That same year, she performed at the opening reception of the International Lion of Judah Conference at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans. In April, she was a guest at the White House reception honoring Jewish American History Month.
A Jewish educator, Hidary has conducted workshops on poetry and racism for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). She is the director and developer of “MONOLOGUES,” an evening of solo performances of spoken word and hip-hop by young Jewish adults inspired by a 10-day trip through Israel with Birthright Israel, and produced by Birthright Israel NEXT.
Hidary says that she is inspired by two “Jewesses with Attitude:” the comedienne Judy Gold, and Hidary’s grandmother, whom she remembers as “kick-ass; she was an artist, and super-strong and outspoken.”

“The Hebrew Mamita:” Wednesday will be presented Sept. 12, at the Stamford JCC, 1035 Newfield Ave. in Stamford. Separate programs for teens and adults. For information contact Elise Passy: (203) 321-1373, ext. 114 / elise@ujf.org or Sandy Golove: (203) 321-1373, ext. 107 / sandy@ujf.org | Tickets www.ujf.org/mamita.aspx

Comments? Email cindym@jewishledger.com

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